Twice in five days, Memphis Police officers have been accused of interfering with citizens who were using their cellphones to record police activities.
The First Amendment guarantees people the right to film public activities, civil liberties experts said Tuesday. Last November, the U.S. Supreme Court strengthened such protections when it refused to hear an appeal concerning an Illinois law that would have made it illegal to record police.
In both Memphis cases — one at a Midtown homeless shelter, the other a hip-hop gathering on South Main — those arrested were charged with disorderly conduct or obstructing a highway or passageway. Handcuffs effectively ended those recording attempts.
Civil liberties experts worry that police are using general laws to arrest people who disobey orders to put their cameras away.
“The people who are recording are winning in court. But the problem is that, out on the streets, police officers can informally order people to put their phones away or threaten them with arrest if they don’t,” said Tim Lynch, director of the criminal justice program of the Cato Institute, a Washington-based think tank.