Austin, Texas – On Tuesday, a bill was filed by Texas Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas), HB 2918, which would turn private citizens who film police into criminals.
The bill attempts to usurp citizens of the ability to hold law enforcement accountable for their actions by negating people’s ability to create an accurate and impartial record of police interactions.
If passed, the bill would amend the current “INTERFERENCE WITH PUBLIC DUTIES” statute (Sec. 38.15), to include language only allow filming of police (within 25ft) by “news media.”
The term “news media” is then defined as such:
(A) a radio or television station that holds a license issued by the Federal Communications Commission;
(B) a newspaper that is qualified under Section 2051.044, Government Code, to publish legal notices or is a free newspaper of general circulation and that is published at least once a week and available and of interest to the general public in connection with the dissemination of news or public affairs; or
(C) a magazine that appears at a regular interval, that contains stories, articles, and essays by various writers, and that is available and of interest to the general public in connection with the dissemination of news or public affairs.
Notice that private citizens, and internet based sites are not listed as qualifying as “news media,” thus allowing the marginalization of anyone that is not part of the old corporate media structure. This also means that a citizen wouldn’t be able to record their own interaction with an officer.
The law is intentionally structured in this manner as a means of controlling the narrative of police-involved incidents. Traditional news outlets often rely almost solely on police talking points when running a story involving the police. It’s extremely rare for them to allow the victim’s version of events to be part of the narrative, especially when conflicting with that of the police.
If not for the alternative media on the ground in Ferguson, much of what was transpiring there would have never seen the light of day as corporate media would have just buried the story altogether.
The proposed legislation also ignores legal precedent, established in Glik v Cunniffe, where the court held that “a private citizen has the right to record video and audio of public officials in a public place.”
In that case the court went on to say:
“…we have previously recognized that the videotaping of public officials is an exercise of First Amendment liberties,” affirming Glik’s constitutional right to videotape public officials in public places.
The court went on to state that the right to film public officials in public places was clearly established a decade prior to the case, which would mean it was already established as early as 1997.
For some reason, Representative Villalba thinks that his authoritarian “wisdom” should replace that of the Founding Fathers.
What’s clear is that filming law enforcement in the commission of their duties has been established as “free speech” under the 1st Amendment of the Constitution.
The ability of citizens to hold officers accountable for their actions is not only protected “speech,” it’s also a necessary check on an out of control law enforcement apparatus.
When politicians attempt to take away the people’s ability to create an objective record of interactions with cops it should raise serious red flags. This is an unmistakable example of the ruling class attempting to provide cover for its paid enforcers.
Liberty activist Brett Sanders initially reported on this bill early on Thursday. Since his article was published, Villalba has engaged Sanders on Twitter.
Villalba immediately claimed that his bill does not stop people from filming, but simply asks them to step back “a little.”
What is important to point out here is that a person without a camera, can be within the distance constraints as described in the legislation and will not be in violation of any law. The camera, the record of police conduct is what is made illegal in this bill. To deny that it is not a direct attack on free speech is asinine.
Update: Due to the press generated from this article Villalba has taken to Twitter to defend his bill.
— Jay Syrmopoulos (@SirMetropolis) March 13, 2015
Jay Syrmopoulos is an investigative journalist, freethinker, researcher, and ardent opponent of authoritarianism. He is currently a graduate student at University of Denver pursuing a masters in Global Affairs. Jay’s work has previously been published on BenSwann.com and WeAreChange.org. You can follow him on Twitter @sirmetropolis, on Facebook at Sir Metropolis and now on tsu.