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June 02, 2011

Vid: Outrage (?) As Man Detained For Photographing Train Tracks In Maryland

There are three main possible takes here.

1. The liberal/libertarian Civil Liberties take. Cops should not be permitted to ask for ID in this situation, or take any official notice of it. The man is free to do as he pleases. Back off, authoritarian police.

2. The half-in/half-out semi-conservative position. This is an outrage, but cops should ask "suspicious characters" and detain them as necessary, and often this will mean "Islamic looking," but that mostly full civil liberties should be preserved for everyone else. This is an example of "security theater."


3. The authoritarian/statist position, post 9/11. A little checking by cops is prudent and lawful, and if you want to insist on the right to not present ID, you can and should expect detention or hassle.


I know 1 and 3 make sense. Not to say they're right, but they make sense.

I do not believe 2 makes sense or is workable or constitutionally permissible. I do get, and believe, that some type of profiling is appropriate. But this guy, having attracted police attention, for whatever reason, can't just offer "but I'm white" as a defense. Not that he says that, but I mean, "I'm white and Christian" really can't be a Leave Me Alone, Copper card we can play.

Or at least it seems so to me.

Anyway, the video. The guy sounds both harmless and a little weird. But who knows.

I hate putting up these posts because I get screamed at by both the civil libertarians, who feel cops should have rather little power at all to ask questions of anyone not caught red-handed in a crime, and the half-in/half-outs, who insist I'm missing an important distinction.

I don't know. I think at some point you have to lay down a bright-line rule. Either we're going to be suspicious of videotapes taken at travel nodes or we're not. I don't think it's a consistent position to just say "Well, only when the guy is guilty."

Plus, I think the cops are pretty polite. They're arguing, discussing with the guy.

Update: From the jump, robtr has been all over me like Anthony Weiner on a hockey score. He notes that in fact it is not illegal to videotape trains at a train station, and further:

That isn't true, if you read the article the cheif of police said the cops made a mistake and needed more training. He said it's perfectly legal to video their trains.

Well, I don't read articles, Chief, so how does that help me?

However, in the comments, it remains an interesting question, despite my having gotten almost everything completely wrong.

Even if it's not illegal to videotape trains, it is also not illegal -- at all -- for cops to ask you why you're videotaping trains, same as it's not illegal for them to ask you why you are photographing the security cameras outside a bank.

Is that illegal? Photographing security cameras at a bank? No. There is no crime of "casing," I don't think.

But are cops supposed to ask why you are doing it? Yes, they are, unless you actually do want them just hanging out in the donut shop all day.

The error here might have been police escalation into an arrest, after the man seemed to be nothing but a slightly odd harmless guy. Cops can't arrest you for the Disrespecting the Authority of a Cop in the First Degree, though, as we all must admit, that often seems to be the "real law" cops base their arrests on.

In this case, they're polite. However, they also don't like being challenged or having "rights" tossed in their faces. And thus, Disrespecting the Badge, with Aggravating Circumstances.

Note to New Readers: I actually get virtually everything wrong. Just a head's up.

I just have entered some unconscious in-the-zone trance on Weiner.

But anything non-Weiner? Will be wrong. My theory of blogging is that if I tell you correct information, that's just feeding you. I want you to earn it, by realizing all the errors I've made.

See? It's interactive.



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posted by Ace at 02:06 PM

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