by David McElroy
It’s one thing to read articles over and over about police harassing innocent people for taking photos in public. It’s quite another to experience it yourself and have an angry cop threaten to seize my camera, but that happened to me Saturday.
It’s all for the children, you know.
I was at the Buck Creek Festival in Helena, Ala., taking photos on a freelance assignment from a newspaper. The managing editor of the paper had asked me to get “candid shots, photos of kids enjoying the event’s attractions, etc.” In other words, it was very typical photography for a public event. It wasn’t a big deal.
After I’d been shooting a little more than an hour, a police lieutenant from the Helena Police Department approached me. He said that he had received reports that I was taking pictures, including pictures of children. Considering the fact that I’d been walking around with my Canon T3i for the past hour — openly taking pictures and talking to random people — it’s clear that this wasn’t exactly something I was trying to hide.
I acknowledged it and asked what the problem was.
(In recounting the narrative from here, I am reconstructing it to the best of my memory’s ability, but since I didn’t take notes or record it, the details might be jumbled or out of order, mostly because I was rattled by the incident. The essence of the narrative is correct, though.)
The cop said he had gotten four reports that I had been taking pictures — including pictures of kids. He said he hadn’t done anything about it the first three times it was reported, but he had a duty now to find out what I was doing and “send you on your way.”
I asked why that was and what law I was supposed to have broken. He couldn’t answer that, but he didn’t like me asking. I told him that I was shooting pictures for a newspaper and I told him which one. That shouldn’t have mattered, because public photography is perfectly legal whether you’re a newspaper employee or just shooting pictures for yourself.
It was about this point that he threatened to seize my camera.