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Ear to the Ground

Singing and Photography Can Land You in Jail

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Posted on Aug 19, 2013
- Hak - (CC BY 2.0)

While the NSA has been drawing international attention for its massive collection of personal data and its seemingly preternatural inability to follow its own shadowy protocols for handling the material, it’s useful to remember that our national eavesdroppers aren’t the only governmental entities running roughshod over the Bill of Rights.

For more than two years, Wisconsin protesters have met in the State Capitol in Madison for a lunchtime “Solidarity Sing Along,” much to the annoyance of Republican Gov. Scott Walker. This summer, under Walker’s direction, the Capitol Police have engaged in a crackdown, as John Nichols reports over at The Nation. In the last few weeks, some 124 people have been arrested or cited for singing in the Capitol. At lunchtime.

Mark Clear, a member of the Madison City Council, was arrested last week by the apparently irony-deprived police for joining in on “This Land Is Your Land.” A few minutes later, Progressive magazine editor Matt Rothschild was hauled off in cuffs on an obstruction charge while photographing officers escorting a detainee to an elevator. Rothschild was taken to a basement holding area until after the sing-along ended, then ferried to a local police station for processing and released with a citation.

Beyond the several glaring First Amendment issues at hand here, the arrest of Rothschild is disturbing in the way it fits a long-developing pattern by police: Jail the journalists—both professional and citizen—until the police action is over.

Florida multimedia journalist Carlos Miller has been arrested several times in the course of covering Miami, and his first detainment led to his Photography Is Not A Crime website, a chilling and nearly daily collection of incidents in which police have violated the rights of the press to cover news events in public spaces. Notably absent from these postings: penalties paid by the police departments for their blatant disregard for press rights.

As the arrests of singing Wisconsonites and news photographers around the nation show, the First Amendment is worthless unless it is respected, and protected. And seizing people for exercising their constitutional rights to free assembly, speech and a free press is not the mark of a confident democracy.

—Posted by Scott Martelle.

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