Philadelphia, PA — A gross injustice and violation of rights was captured on film by a West Philadelphia man as he rode down the street on his bicycle this week. However, because this man refused to be bullied by two cops who were clearly in the wrong, an amazing example of flexing rights was captured on film.
The incident began as Jean-Jacques Gabriel was biking home Tuesday night when he saw a pair of plainclothes cops stopping another pair of strangers. The strangers asked Gabriel to film as they believed they were being wrongly targeted because of their skin color.
As Gabriel begins filming, the cops quickly turn their attention to him. One officer then approaches Gabriel and demands he hand over his phone — a clear violation of the first amendment and an unlawful order.
Knowing this cop’s demand was entirely bogus, Gabriel politely refused and stood his ground.
“It’s not the first time that I’ve pulled over and done video,” said Gabriel, a native of Haiti. “Just because I know what is done. This is something that happens every day in the lives of black people and black men in the city. There’s no one there to see it. There’s no one there to make it known.”
Even though Gabriel is no stranger to filming the cops, he did note that this was the first time he’d ever been asked to hand over his phone.
“It doesn’t make sense that you can just take my phone,” explains Gabriel to the officer.
“You’re absolutely right. You’re absolutely right,” asserts the cop, apparently knowing that what he is doing was entirely illegal. “It doesn’t. But now you have evidence in your phone.”
The officers continue to press Gabriel to hand over the phone, at which point he asks for a supervisor. But these cops did not want a supervisor to see them misbehaving.
As the Philly Voice noted, Gabriel correctly asserted his constitutional rights, according to Temple University law experts, and the ACLU of Pennsylvania. It is even against the Philadelphia Police Department’s own policy directive which states, “All police personnel … should reasonably anticipate and expect to be photographed, videotaped and/or be audibly recorded by members of the general public.”
However, these officers did not care. They continued to press him.
“I wasn’t giving it up,” Gabriel said. “I was like, ‘No, this isn’t happening until a supervisor explains to me. The way you’re treating those guys and me already just reeks of illegality. I’m not going to listen to you. Somebody else has to explain to me why I have to give up my property.'”
Gabriel then temporarily stops recording to dial 911, hoping to get less corrupt cops to show up. When the recording starts back up, the cops are driving away.
“Theoretically, if I was using my cell phone camera to capture a drug sale, or a murder, it’s a little different (than recording an arrest),” said Jules Epstein, a civil rights attorney and the director of advocacy programs at the Beasley School of Law, to the Voice. “Then my phone camera has evidence of a crime. Hopefully, they would ask cooperatively. Technically, they could probably seize it. But then they have to get a warrant to play what is on it.”
Police making an arrest, as in the footage captured by Gabriel, is not evidence of a crime, said Epstein. His opinion was shared by Louis Natali Jr., a criminal defense attorney with decades of experience, reports the Voice.
“It sounds to me like the cops realized this was somebody they couldn’t buffalo,” Epstein said. “They backed down. But the real points here are citizens may do this. They should do it in a way that’s not aggravating a situation. If they have evidence of a crime, hopefully, they’ll be good citizens and cooperate.”
The actions of these officers were nothing short of intimidation and abuse of authority. However, Gabriel refused to be intimidated and noted that he was streaming this video “live on Facebook.” Had these officers done anything to him, it would have been broadcast immediately to all those who were watching — and they likely knew this.
Aside from all the state, local, and police laws protecting the acts of filming police, there are also federal rulings.
The citizens’ right to film the police is a 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.
In spite of court rulings, the myriad of lawsuits against police, and the sheer negative publicity given to departments for police attacking those who would film them — the abuse continues.
Below is yet another example of why so many people, rightfully so, do not trust the police.
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