Wednesday, November 09, 2011


ACLU: Police photography of interfaith service not illegal

by Larry Geller

In Kat Brady’s article Faith Under Surveillance (11/8/2011) she describes her reaction to police videotaping participants at a candlelight ceremony following an interfaith service Monday at St. Augustine’s Church in Waikiki:

There were plenty of police and, in particular, a uniformed policeman videotaping the gathering (shades of J. Edgar Hoover). He was uncommunicative, unsmiling and acted like we were all criminals. I asked the policeman next to him why they were videotaping a faith demonstration. I was told that they were just taping a peaceful demonstration. If I was born yesterday, I might have believed that.  It made/makes me very sad that we have devolved into this state, where our police end up being the protectors of the corporateers…on our dime no less!

I recalled that the New York Civil Liberties Union had filed a lawsuit against the NYPD to enjoin them from videotaping peaceful demonstrations, but could not quickly find details of that case. But I figured that Hawaii’s ACLU would be familiar with it and know how it might relate to the HPD surveillance in Waikiki.

Of course, they were familiar with the case. This reply is from Daniel Gluck:

Law enforcement officers, like other members of the public, can take video in public.  (See our First Amendment Toolkit,  So long as law enforcement officers are not interfering with anyone’s ability to exercise her/his First Amendment rights, then videotaping alone is generally not problematic.  Problems have arisen in other jurisdictions where police collect videos and photographs as part of dragnet surveillance of peaceful protesters; similarly, some law enforcement agencies have infiltrated groups and interfered with their First Amendment rights.  (The NYPD case you referenced involved officers collecting dossiers on protesters, which had already been prohibited pursuant to a prior consent decree.)  We would, of course, be very concerned if any law enforcement officers in Hawaii were engaged in more insidious conduct like this, and we will remain vigilant in protecting individuals’ First Amendment rights.

That HPD may videotape, however, does not necessarily mean that HPD ought to videotape; any individual who is upset about HPD’s filming has every right to complain to HPD, the City Council, and/or the Mayor if s/he believes that the practice is intimidating and/or that the practice is an inefficient use of taxpayer resources.

So New York has had a lengthy lead-up to the injunction or court order they received.

We should be vigilant and note if HPD institutes a practice of videotaping peaceful gatherings.


I believe the cops SHOULD videotape. (I know, this will annoy some of my friends and prove what a sell-out I have become).

During the Asian Development Bank march through Waikiki in 2001, there was an Emergency Medical Services guy, in uniform, video-taping the entire procession. The taping was undoubtedly for the cops. At the time, I thought it was inappropriate. But the cops and their Joint Task Force buddies had fears the demonstration might degenerate into a Black Bloc-style destruction of property. Kalakaua Ave has a lot of the expensive plate glass beloved by the Black Bloc types. Had violence erupted, videotape of all the participants, taken in advance, would be helpful in identifying suspects. Sorry, but I think THAT is a legitimate function of law-enforcement.

There is an unfortunate tendency, which needs to be struggled against, among some activists to view smashed windows and street-fighting as an appropriate, even a more advanced form of political struggle. Some of the Thomas Square Occupy folks paused to pull the obligatory bandanas over their faces as they prepared to get arrested. I am uncomfortable with this conscious self-identification with an unfortunate stereotype. "We are the commie demons from Hell your mama warned you about." The stereotyped thinking of BOTH the cops and the demonstrators are confirmed. The cops with their Evil Empire RoboCop armor and the activists with their black hoodies, bandanas and keffiyehs.

So far, the cops here SEEM to have resisted the allure of their Darth Vader outfits, though we may see some before this is over. They KNOW the image works against them. Their conscious adoption of Aloha Attire is smart. Not only as a PR gimmick, but as a step against the escalating dynamic of mutual demonization between cops and activists. The “Dark Side” offers temptations to BOTH cops and activists. We need to resist adopting the uniform of the "anarchist street fighter." It is not “bad-ass.” It is bad politics. I see it as a symptom of what Lenin rightly termed "infantile leftism."

After the property damage caused by Black Bloccers at the close of a VERY successful general strike in Oakland, many wanted to dismiss the BB crowd as police agent-provocateurs. I wish it were that simple. I have no doubt there are police informants among activists, perhaps in their meetings. Wearing bandanas as a routine part of dress helps agents infiltrate our ranks. When we cannot know whether bad behavior comes from police agents or hotheads on “our side,” we need to work on our movement.

While police videotaping MAY serve a legitimate function as a deterrent and as valuable evidence for identifying perpetrators, it is almost inevitable the tapes will be used for purposes the ACLU identifies as illegal. The various security agencies are building dossiers on all political activists. (I expect our comments HERE are being monitored). Alongside the worldwide militarization of the police response to demonstrations, they are building databases, dossiers on every political activist they can. Data-gathering which once was so costly it was reserved for high-value targets is now so easy, due to the technological advances, even "low value" activists can be monitored at low cost.

In addition to government agencies who coordinate "security" for events of this sort, there are specialized private contractors. It is a smaller version of the "military-industrial complex," which provides advice, weaponry, software and other technical services targeting demonstrators. It is a growth industry, provides good employment for retired spooks, cops and ex-military, and creates incentives to promote "worst case scenario" thinking among law enforcement agencies. These people are among the 22,000 folks in town for APEC. While talks over solar panels and clean energy might be conducted in public view—hey, it makes APEC look benign—behind closed doors, there are negotiations over security contracts and the technology of repression.

I'm not sure police videoing innocent people is ever benign. Throw that in with making a record of license plates with the new highway cameras.

Daniel Gluck's comment is a convoluted mishmash nonsensical statement. The reason it is wrong for police to video tape a public gathering is because they are the police. Gluck made the statement as if the police and a non interested bystander have the same interest in video taping a peaceful demonstration. If the peaceful demonstration turned ugly the undercover police who infiltrated the peaceful demonstration could have taken down the old lady waving a sign. Normally though, it is the undercover police themselves who are the agitators who try to rile up the demonstration into a frenzy.

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