Three photography activists who call themselves the Southern Illinois Public Observers were recently arrested in Marion, Illinois, because an unidentified FBI employee didn't feel good about them publicly filming a FBI building (video below).
In the activists' video, a man in a suit (FBI) says the activists have done nothing wrong and they are free to leave, but then seems to block the activist carrying the camera, notes The Free Thought Project.
The scene cuts to the same man blocking the camera lens with his hand. The activists inform him that they are not filming in front of his home, but he says that he spends more time there than he does at home, in an apparent reference to the FBI building.
The activists tell the man that they, as citizens, pay for the public building (with their taxes) that they were filming, and the man tells them that he pays for their home "indirectly," while trying to equate the FBI federal-owned building to a privately-owned home.
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The video cuts to a police officer who says the activists have not done anything wrong, but asks them for their identifications.
When the activists refuse to provide their identifications, the officer asserts that they are being temporarily detained.
One activist asks what crime they are being detained for, but the officer doesn't say. He does say that they are "videoing a public building," which he admits is not a crime. The officer says that he wants to check to see if they have any warrants.
The clip cuts to a second officer who arrives on the scene. He warns the activists they are subject to arrest based on a third-party's feelings: "Hey, you do realize that if someone comes out here, and says that you are alarming them by filming them, you can be charged with disorderly conduct because they feel like they're a victim of a crime... That's the law."
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One of the activists tells the second officer that photography in public is a First Amendment-protected activity.
"If you're filming somebody, and they feel alarmed or threatened by that, you can be charged with disorderly conduct," the second officer insists.
The man in the suit appears and calmly says, "I am telling you officer, and I am telling them, I feel alarmed."
One of the activists tells the man that he has no expectation of privacy in public.
"That they are filming my building without identifying who they are," the man in the suit adds. "I have concern for the building, and the residents of that building."
A third officer appears on the scene, and tells the activists: "We have a victim of disorderly conduct. Somebody at the FBI office is alarmed and disturbed by your behaviors. So, at this point, you all three are under arrest. So that means you need to stop taping."
According to text on the video, the activists were taken to the Marion Police Department, and an activist's lawyer was notified.
The ACLU states on its website that taking pictures in public is a protected right:
Taking photographs and video of things that are plainly visible in public spaces is a constitutional right -- and that includes transportation facilities, the outside of federal buildings, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties.
Unfortunately, law enforcement officers have been known to ask people to stop taking photographs of public places. Those who fail to comply have sometimes been harassed, detained, and arrested. Other people have ended up in FBI databases for taking innocuous photographs of public places.
In an update video, one of the activists said that the Marion Police Chief (Dawn Tondini) said that all three officers were not aware that filming in public is a legal activity (since 2010), even though one of them told the activists that they had not committed a crime.
The chief reportedly apologized to the activist, but the FBI has not responded, per the activist, who mocked them for filing "false charges."