The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Victory in the War on Cameras

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the first circuit (comprising Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island) last week ruled that police do not have immunity against lawsuits when sued for arresting someone pointing a camera at them. Though only a procedural matter in the middle of an ongoing case, the ruling made it clear that police aren't allowed to you for videotaping them in public:

For those of you not familiar with Simon Glik's case, Glik was arrested on October 1, 2007, after openly using his cell phone to record three police officers arresting a suspect on Boston Common. In return for his efforts to record what he suspected might be police brutality -- in a pattern that is now all too familiar -- Glik was charged with criminal violation of the Massachusetts wiretap act, aiding the escape of a prisoner and disturbing the peace.

Glik filed suit in federal court against the officers and the City of Boston under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act. Glik alleged that the police officers violated his First Amendment right to record police activity in public and that the officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights by arresting him without probable cause to believe a crime had occurred.

Naturally, the police officers moved to dismiss on the basis of qualified immunity, but [the district court judge] was having none of that, denying the motion from the bench and ruling that "in the First Circuit . . . this First Amendment right publicly to record the activities of police officers on public business is established." The police officers then appealed to the First Circuit, but they have now struck out on appeal as well, with the First Circuit ruling that "Glik was exercising clearly-established First Amendment rights in filiming the officers in a public space, and that his clearly-established Fourth Amendment rights were violated by his arrest without probable cause."

The way U.S. law works, however, this ruling doesn't quite do what you might think. First, the 1st Circuit ruled on a procedural matter, not a substantive one; so while they clearly signaled how they would rule on the matter, they haven't actually ruled yet. Second, the ruling only binds the states within the circuit. Other circuits, including the 9th (which includes nine Western states including California), have ruled similarly; but some circuits haven't pronounced on anti-camera laws yet.

That said, I'd like to quote the Court's explanation of why recording police in public places is legal (citations removed):

The filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles. Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting "the free discussion of governmental affairs." ... Moreover, as the Court has noted, "[f]reedom of expression has particular significance with respect to government because '[i]t is here that the state has a special incentive to repress opposition and often wields a more effective power of suppression.'" .... This is particularly true of law enforcement officials, who are granted substantial discretion that may be misused to deprive individuals of their liberties. .... Ensuring the public's right to gather information about their officials not only aids in the uncovering of abuses, ...but also may have a salutary effect on the functioning of government more generally.

I hope this interpretation gains wider acceptance in the circuits.

Another New York City disaster

In a move that brings progressives and libertarians together better than a runaway defense budget, Gotham has banned dogs from bars:

Since the health department adopted a letter grade system for bars and restaurants last year, bar owners say, health inspectors are allowing no wiggle room for four-legged patrons.

The stricter enforcement is apparently bringing to an end a rich tradition of dog-friendly bars in New York.

The health department issued 469 violations for live animals in food-service sites from July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011, though the agency did not provide a breakdown of the different kinds of offending animals.

During inspections, many owners said they were surprised to learn that dogs were not allowed even in outdoor seating areas. Neither does a bar’s dearth of actual food products provide any cover. “Beer, wine and spirits have always been classified as food,” a department spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail. Only service dogs are permitted in spaces that serve food or drink of any kind.

Chicago allows dogs on outdoor patios when the owners pay a modest fee, but officially prohibits dogs in bars as well. However, I can't imagine the Chicago health department cracking down. There'd be outrage—not just from the dog owners, but also from the pub owners, who might get mad enough to stop paying bribes other license fees.

Oh, the humanity.

Overreaction? Not at all

The Economist Gulliver blog makes a good case that media coverage of Irene was appropriate for the threat:

Hurricanes are serious business. They have the capacity to cause billions of dollars in damage and kill hundreds or thousands of people. They have political consequences, too—no politician wants to be blamed for a disaster the way President George W. Bush was after Hurricane Katrina. Moreover, it is very unusual for a hurricane to hit America's north-east, where around one sixth of Americans live and a quarter of the country's economic output is produced. An unusual, potentially disastrous event that was certain to affect millions of Americans and put billions of dollars of property at risk is just the sort of thing the media should be covering. Just because Irene wasn't the disaster that some Americans feared doesn't mean it wasn't important to cover it.

Another way to look at it, just because Irene didn't cause more damage doesn't mean the preparations and coverage were wrong. Just two days ago it looked like Manhattan, Queens, Nassau, Suffolk, Hoboken, and Jersey City—places where millions of people live just a few meters above sea level—could experience devastating damage from a storm surge. This is, remember, the first hurricane to hit New York City in about a century.

I'm very happy the storm did as little damage as it did. And even though it turned out to be unnecessary, I'm glad Mayor Bloomberg and Governors Cuomo and Christie took the actions they did to prepare for what looked like, earlier this weekend, an unprecedented disaster.

The Mindset List, Class of 2015

Beloit College, just across the Wisconsin line and just outside the Chicago area, puts together a list every year to describe the incoming class of first-years. Last year's list made me cry. This year's list provoked a different emotion, one that I can't quite make out with my age-addled brain:

2. Ferris Bueller and Sloane Peterson could be their parents.
12. Amazon has never been just a river in South America.
22. John Wayne Bobbitt has always slept with one eye open.
39. Moderate amounts of red wine and baby aspirin have always been thought good for the heart.
60. Frasier, Sam, Woody and Rebecca have never Cheerfully frequented a bar in Boston during primetime.
75. The New York Times and the Boston Globe have never been rival newspapers.

OK, time for my Geritol...

Mayor orders parts of NYC evacuated

Breaking news:

Nearly 300,000 New York City residents were told Friday to get out of their homes in a first-ever mandatory evacuation as officials ordered an unprecedented shutdown of the city’s mass transit system for Saturday in advance of Hurricane Irene, raising the prospect of a singular scramble as hundreds of thousands of residents try to get out of the massive storm’s way.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered an evacuation by 5 p.m. Saturday for low-lying areas that house about 270,000 people. Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said subways, buses and commuter trains in the city, on Long Island and in the northern suburbs will begin their final runs around noon Saturday.

Officials earlier ordered Fire Island evacuated, starting half an hour ago.

Getting nervous about Irene

Hurricane Irene, currently category 2 on the Staffir-Simpson scale, looks like it's heading straight for New York City. Both the NYC and New Jersey emergency management agencies have published maps (pdf) showing the likely flood zones for various categories of hurricanes. They're scary.

I used to live in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y., and Hoboken, N.J. Both areas would be affected by a category 1 hurricane. My place in Hoboken, in fact, was only 2 m above sea level. My stuff would probably be OK—I lived on the fourth and fifth floors—but a moderate storm surge would likely flood the entire city of Hoboken, and make it impossible to live there for weeks.

I hope all my friends in the New York Metro are taking reasonable steps to protect themselves and whatever stuff they can get out. It's going to be a wet weekend in the Northeast...

Update, 13:27 CDT: New York City and the surrounding area have decided to shut down all commuter train, subway, and Amtrak service in the region starting at noon tomorrow.

"Eavesdropper" acquitted; law still not tested

Yesterday I wrote about a criminal trial here in Chicago in which a woman was charged with felony eavesdropping for recording a conversation with two police officers. Under Illinois law, this "crime" carries the same penalties as rape and manslaughter. The law needs to go, whether through repeal (unlikely) or being overturned by a Federal appeals court (more likely).

Good news for Tiawanda Moore this afternoon, but bad news for Illinois civil liberties: she got acquitted:

[A] Criminal Court jury quickly repudiated the prosecution's case, taking less than an hour to acquit Moore on both eavesdropping counts.

"The two cops came across as intimidating and insensitive," said one juror, Ray Adams, 57, a pharmacist from the western suburbs. "Everybody thought it was just a waste of time and that (Moore) never should have been charged."

The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit in Chicago last year challenging the law, saying it was unconstitutional to prevent people from openly recording police officers working in public. A federal judge dismissed the suit, but the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear oral arguments next month in the ACLU's appeal of the decision.

The 7th Circuit has a reputation for evenness. We can hope, at least; but the ACLU's case will probably take another few years to finish.

Excellent use of smart phone technology

Do you ever eat fish? If so, are you aware that many fisheries are unsustainable, that popular fish species have high incidence of contamination, and that while generally good for you, some sushi can give you heavy metals with your wasabi?

For years I've carried around a pocket sustainable seafood guide the Monterey Bay Aquarium publishes semi-annually. Now they've got a smartphone app for both iPhone and Android. No more printing it out on paper! W00t!