Friday July 30, 2010

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Via Radley Balko’s The Agitator, we get word that a 20 year old woman (in a neck brace) named Melissa Greenfield has pled no contest to obstruction charges after refusing to put away her cell phone gun camera while a police officer questioned her boyfriend.

Well, there are lots of blogs eager to make fun of the notion of the cell phone gun, which is what the officer claims he thought she had when insisting that she put the thing away. It raised my journalistic instincts, though, that the judge and prosecutor and everyone else take at face value the very existence of a cell phone gun, which I’d never even heard of.

It turns out they’re real, though no one’s ever seen one in the United States, and they look like phones so ancient that Zack Morris from Saved By The Bell would laugh if he encountered one. Still, to my scoffing fellow bloggers – the cop is right, and cell phone guns do exist. How was he to know that she wasn’t a Croatian cell phone gun smuggler who had fallen into a coma in 2002 (when she was 12), only to recently awaken and attempt to bring her wares into Ohio? Law enforcement is a dangerous job, and all it takes is one recently-awakened coma victim who’s also a cell phone gun smuggler to ruin your day.

Or, more seriously – wow. This makes it even more clear – the next major civil liberties battle will include the right to photograph and video record the police in the course of their duties, and they will fight it hard. They’ll fight it with laws like the ones that exist in Maryland and Illinois, which insist that it’s a privacy violation, and they’ll fight it on the streets by making up crap like cell phone guns and performing shady confiscations (followed by deletions – the young woman in this case, Greenfield, received her phone back with the video she shot missing, and the police’s line being that they couldn’t have erased it, because messing with her phone would have required a warrant, which they didn’t have).

To the first point, political blogger Digby puts it succinctly:

There’s no reason that police officers should ever have an expectation of privacy when dealing with the public. Ever. The mere idea of it is authoritarian. I realize that videos and audio tapes don’t always reflect the context, but the burden of proof is on the government, not the citizen and police have to factor that into their behavior.

To the second point, well, there’s not really a good answer. I’d say that you’d need to start holding the police accountable for their actions, but this whole problem is a result of the police working their hardest to avoid accountability.

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