Posts Tagged ‘First Amendment’

Blissfully unaware of the Streisand Effect, A thin-skinned Illinois mayor chose to sic his city’s police force on some local citizens last week over a parody account that poked fun at him on Twitter.  The mayor was apparently upset that someone had created what was obviously a fake twitter persona, @Peoriamayor, and was tweeting about drug use and infidelity, and otherwise making stupid comments that anyone with an ounce of common sense would recognize as political satire. The mayor himself reportedly contacted his chief of police to report the situation, and, as you might expect, the chief was convinced that a crime had occurred.

Despite the the fact that the account’s creator had added a statement indicating the account was satirical, the chief reportedly said, “I don’t agree it was obvious [that the account was fake], and in fact it appears that someone went to great lengths to make it appear it was actually from the mayor.” A warrant was requested, a judge signed off on it, and a raid of the account creator’s home ensued. Three people were taken into custody, and a small quantity of marijuana was found at the house.

Charges of impersonating a public official are pending.

In the wake of all this, a hilarious stream of fake Twitter accounts has been created, including @NotPeoriaMayor:

Not Jim Ardis (NotPeoriaMayor) on Twitter 2014-04-20 10-30-06

Aside from the First Amendment implications (satire is generally considered protected speech)–and the fact that Peoria’s mayor has made himself look like a petty, vindictive, bully (which he may well be)–the police have been drawn into what is arguably a political matter.  The mayor had other remedies he could have pursued, including just ignoring the inanity of it all, but instead chose to bring the power of the state, via law enforcement, against his political enemies. That’s hardly the ethos of a free and vibrant democracy.

Even outrageous speech by Larry Flynt, the pornography purveyor who famously lampooned Jerry Falwell by distributing a fake liquor ad implying that Falwell had a sexual encounter with his own mother in an outhouse, was deemed to be protected.


Short of libel or slander, parodies of public figures have long enjoyed free-speech protections. According to the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University:

Satire is a centuries-old type of literature that uses humor and imitation to attack and ridicule individuals’ moral and character flaws, such as vice, unfairness, stupidity or vanity. A parody is also an attack on folly, but it takes the form of a contemptuous imitation of an existing artistic production — usually a serious work of literature, music, artwork or film — for satirical or humorous purposes. Satire and parody have served for generations as a means of criticizing public figures, exposing political injustice, communicating social ideologies, and pursuing such artistic ends as literary criticism. Satirists usually find themselves subjected in turn to criticism, contempt and, sometimes, lawsuits. The First Amendment protects satire and parody as a form of free speech and expression.

And, according to the Supreme Court’s decision in Hustler Magazine versus Falwell, Justice Rehnquist wrote that:

The sort of robust political debate encouraged by the First Amendment is bound to produce speech that is critical of those who hold public office or those public figures who are “intimately involved in the resolution of important public questions or, by reason of their fame, shape events in areas of concern to society at large.” Associated Press v. Walker, decided with Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U.S. 130, 164 (1967) (Warren, C. J., concurring in result). Justice Frankfurter put it succinctly in Baumgartner v. United States, 322 U.S. 665, 673 -674 (1944), when he said that “[o]ne of the prerogatives of American citizenship is the right to criticize public men and measures.” Such criticism, inevitably, will not always be reasoned or moderate; public figures as well as public officials will be subject to “vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks,” New York Times, supra, at 270. “[T]he candidate who vaunts his spotless record and sterling integrity cannot convincingly cry `Foul!’ when an opponent or an industrious reporter attempts [485 U.S. 46, 52]   to demonstrate the contrary.” Monitor Patriot Co. v. Roy, 401 U.S. 265, 274 (1971).

Public officials definitely don’t have to like what other people say, but they have to allow it. When the government starts picking and choosing what speech it finds acceptable, and what it doesn’t, and then using force to squelch what it deems unacceptable, we’ve got a start on becoming just a more well-resourced version of North Korea.

Update (4/21/14): Popehat posted a very funny (and satirical, just to be clear) guest post from the Honorable Jim Ardis, mayor of Peoria, Illinois, that I just had to share.

Update (4/23/14): Well, the mayor came out swinging at a city council meeting Tuesday evening, accusing the press of “spinning” their coverage of what he insists was a legitimate attempt to “protect his identity.”  Meanwhile, members of the city council questioned the mayor’s actions and bemoaned the negative national attention they’ve brought to Peoria. You just can’t make this stuff up.

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We pay a lot of attention when cops get things wrong. Police misconduct is heavily reported in the traditional media, and social media only serves to amplify the negative messages that shape our perceptions of policing in modern America.

And, with the advent of easily accessible portable video, everyone can now get in on the act of catching cops at their very worst.

Even just a cursory search of Youtube turns up thousands of videos of police misbehaving, violating the law, being aggressive, physically violent, or just generally acting like jerks.

Which is unfortunate.

Most cops I personally know are not jerks – far from it, in fact.  Many of them are quiet, everyday heroes doing their best at a really tough job.

So, this week, we’re going to look at a few cops who are caught on film getting it right. They know the law, understand their role, act with restraint and compassion, and just do an awesome job of policing.

So, click, kick back, and enjoy!

The now internet-famous Deputy Lenic defends First Amendment rights

Some New Hampshire troopers defend an individual’s right to film a public meeting

Officer J. Estes from the Albany, Oregon, PD gets it right during an open carry encounter

What positive experiences have you had with the police? Share yours by leaving a comment below!

Have a safe weekend!

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Video cameras are more prevalent than ever, and even a cursory search of youtube or similar sites quickly shows that anything and everything is being recorded these days (especially cats, with over 11.6 million results on youtube alone).

Another favorite seems to be filming police behavior in public, with sometimes controversial results.

For example, a California man recently died during a police incident, part of which was captured on a cell phone.  While the video is grainy, it seems to show several people striking someone repeatedly.  The woman who captured the footage had her camera confiscated by detectives, reportedly before a warrant was obtained for the seizure. When the camera was later returned, one video that had previously been on the phone had allegedly been deleted.

The FBI has now gotten involved in the case, and the investigation is ongoing.

Raw footage of alleged beating of David Sal Silva

All of this brings us to the question of whether or not individuals are allowed to record police activity in public. While it appears that the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution allow it, the issue is fraught with problems.  Some police departments train their officers not to seize video footage without authorization, for example, while others have no clear policy at all.

There’s a risk to filming police activity, even if you’re acting within your Constitutionally guaranteed rights.

While this isn’t legal advice (nothing on is), one website offers the following “rules” when recording police activity:

  • Rule #1: Know the Law (Wherever You Are)
  • Rule #2 Don’t Secretly Record Police
  • Rule #3: Respond to What Cops Say
  • Rule #4: Don’t Share Your Video with Police
  • Rule #5: Prepare to be Arrested
  • Rule #6: Master Your Technology
  • Rule #7: Don’t Point Your Camera Like a Gun

Rules number 1 and 7 would seem to be particularly important, but all of them might be helpful if you find yourself in a situation that you believe warrants filming police behavior. If you have questions, though, seek legal advice from an attorney who knows the laws in your jurisdiction (I just can’t stress that enough).

And finally, before we conclude that all police officers are somehow bad people who need to be constantly videotaped in order to prevent bad behavior, take a look at this video of a Portland police officer who stops to take care of a family of ducks, even though the bad guy gets away as a result.

An officer with a heart

Have a safe weekend!

If you’re interested in the technology field at all, you’ve almost certainly heard of 3D printing, which, according to Lisa Harouni, is a technology that “will change and disrupt the landscape of manufacturing, and most certainly our lives, our businesses and the lives of our children.”  That’s a pretty sweeping prediction, but we’re already seeing examples of how 3D printing has clashed with fundamental legal concepts, such as those memorialized in the Bill of Rights.

This is especially evident in printed objects, such as firearms, that raise both First Amendment and Second Amendment issues. A recent TechCrunch article on one company’s efforts to distribute plans for a printable handgun did an excellent job of laying out the various angles, including the relevant legal cases that point up the challenges in deciding these types of Constitutional questions.

Test firing of a 3D printed handgun 

To simplify, on one side are free speech advocates who make the claim that restricting access to printing plans, even for a handgun, amounts to a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantees regarding free speech. Just because a printing plans allows for the creation of a weapon does not give the government authority to censor the plans themselves, the argument goes. The plans are protected speech, even if the resulting firearms may ultimately be determined illegal.

On the other side are those who argue that criminals and terrorists now have an easy, cheap, and effective way of manufacturing nearly undetectable weapons. As a proof of that concept, two reporters in the U.K. actually manufactured a 3D printed handgun and smuggled it aboard the Eurostar rail line undetected. They had no ammunition, and they had also removed the firing pin from the gun, but their point was made: If they could do it, anyone could, including someone with criminal intent.

So, what is your position on this? Vote in this week’s poll and see the results!