More Of The Same: Richmond, VA Police Charge Photographer With ‘Trespassing’ On A Public Street

The question of where one may stand and take pictures, and what one may take pictures of, is one that has occasionally impacted me directly. Sometimes people are a little confused about it, but the evidence of court rulings in the past century or so is that an American standing on public property (the sidewalk or street) may take pictures of anything s/he sees. In scenes that involve people close up, I generally confine my snapshots to people who do not immediately express displeasure at being photographed. But I make an exception for people who decide to browbeat me or take my camera away: those people can be sure I will publish the picture.

In this incident, described by Mark Esposito on Jonathan Turley’s blog, photographer Ian Graham of Richmond, VA, who is part owner of a free magazine called RVA, was arrested by Richmond police for standing on a busy public intersection taking pictures of police arresting demonstrators at Occupy Richmond. He was told he had to move to a “media area” far away from the action. When he questioned police about why he had to move (most street photographers know the legal history of such things), he was arrested:

Graham was detained for the apparent ”crime” of walking and photographing police from a public street. It’s more likely he was arrested in retaliation for questioning police about why he was unable to traverse the street and perform an obviously legal action. He was held at the Public Safety Building for about thirty minutes and then released on a summons. 

Eight other people were arrested during the 1:00 a.m raid of the Occupy Richmond encampment. Camping out in solidary with the Occupy Wall Street movement since October 15th, the demonstrators were told they were now trespassing in violation of a city ordinance prohibiting them from being present in the public park after dark. Boy, that took almost three weeks for police to figure out.

I don’t know if police in Richmond and other cities feel enabled by the intimidating actions of Oakland police to do things police have no right to do. But I do know the Virginia ACLU promptly took Graham’s case. If there is any justice… well, I suppose that’s what we’ll find out.

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  • jams o donnell  On Sunday November 6, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    We’ve had plenty of examples of police here stopping photographers on idiotic pretexts and abusing the law. In some cases they have cited terrorism laws. Luckily this seems to have subsided following protests.

    However, in the light of what is going on in the US why the hell are police so consistently fucking idiotic?

  • jams o donnell  On Sunday November 6, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    Well not all cops of course There have ben a fair few examples of cops doing the right thing recently. But there seems to be an incorrigible element who need to be swept out

  • Steve  On Sunday November 6, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    jams, US cops seem greatly divided by city. In some cities, even those in which the police/citizens relationship is typically rocky (e.g., L.A.), overall, relationships with Occupy have not been as bad as one might expect. And then there’s Oakland…

    My being crippled has put an end to my wandering about with a camera, so I won’t be thrown in jail for that… maybe for something else, but not for that. Not surprisingly, over here, I blame Republicans, particularly Tea Party Republicans, for sustaining the kind of ambient fear in the population that leads people to accept and encourage hair-triggered police overreactions. Nothing new for the GOPers in that: it’s who they are, and that’s one significant part of what they do.

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