Two local Champaign, IL men have recently been arrested for videotaping police performing traffic stops in their predominantly black neighborhoods — the bogus charge is felony eavesdropping. I interviewed one of the men, Martell Miller, on the radio show on Aug. 27, and the archive is on-line for listening.
Now that the word is out to the wider community, people are mobilizing to support them against what is obvious police harrassment in order to avoid citizen scrutiny.
Even the fairly conservative local daily newspaper, the News-Gazette, has editorialized in defense of the two men. That’s because they know if these two guys can be locked up on felony charges for recording things that are happening in public, then anyone, including journalists, could be arrested for videotaping anything that happens in public. There is no consitutionally defensible definition for journalist that sets one apart from any other person — if you journal, then you’re a journalist in the eyes of the First Amendment. When it comes to recording the actions of the police in public, your rights are the same as the local paper and TV station’s rights — if you can be arrested for a felony, so can they.
The videos of the police that were shot show how differently the Champaign PD treats crowds of African-Americans leaving a club, compared to how they treat a crowd of drunk and rowdy college students leaving a campus bar, amongst other things. The cops confiscated a copy of the tape that was going to be aired on public access. Now there will be two public screenings.
This story at the Urbana-Champaign IMC gives more details about the case and about the screenings.