ASJA Defends the Right to Focus on the Police

Camera shy?

The police?

The American Society of Journalists and Authors — the professional association of independent nonfiction writers — protests the abuse by Philadelphia police of a journalism student who was simply trying to photograph them on a public street.

Ian Van Kuyk, a journalism student at Temple University, believed he was exercising his First Amendment rights of free speech and free press when he took pictures of police officers who were engaged in a routine traffic stop on a public street. When the officers asked him to stop, he tried to explain that he was within the law to take their photographs on a public street. They disagreed, arrested him and charged him with obstruction, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. Van Kuyk claims that he was pushed, shoved and thrown to the ground before being handcuffed. His girlfriend was present, and when she tried to rescue his camera, she too was charged with obstruction and disorderly conduct. At last report, Van Kuyk’s court date was set for April 16th.

A number of prior cases in other venues have upheld the right of a citizen to photograph an event that is occurring in a public place. “With the explosion of cell phone cameras and videos, combined with social media, an army of citizen journalists has emerged in the past few years,” writes Larry Atkins, a member of ASJA’s First Amendment Committee, in an op-ed piece in Philadelphia. Atkins, a lawyer who also teaches journalism at Temple University and Arcadia University, hopes that this will be “a teachable moment” for all sides — the police, students and journalists.

As Claire Safran, chair of ASJA’s First Amendment Committee, notes, “The Constitution guarantees the fundamental right to report, in words or in pictures, on events taking place in public.”