TRAINS, CAMERAS AND THE CONSTITUTION

It was Labor Day in 2009 when I became aware of just how bad things have gotten in the US.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’ve been naïve.  I’ve been a student of free speech and the political landscape of the US since high school, but Labor Day was the first time I have come into contact with a violation of my civil rights in a very real way.

Our office had a loaner 5D Mark II, and I took it for the weekend for a test drive.  I’ve had a fascination with the Houston light rail since they started laying track, and shooting it with the 5D seemed like the thing to do.  So my friend and I were standing on the platform when an angry homeless guy came up to us and starts harassing us for change.  I look to my right, and there was a Metro Police Car.  I waved at him hoping he would keep this guy moving who was now becoming belligerent.  I’m usually not so nervous in these situations, however, I did have $3500.00 worth of camera  strapped around my neck.  The cop yelled out something:  ”NO PICTURES OF THE TRAIN!”

Could he actually be serious?  After several calls to the Houston Metro Police Department, I come to find he was.  However, it seems there is no law on the books prohibiting photography of a train.  Nevertheless, Homeland Security has endowed local police departments nationwide with violating the first amendment rights of would be train photographers by harassing them and/or detaining them.

When I hung up the phone, I knew for the first time, I wasn’t dealing with some rogue cop or an over zealous police captain, I was dealing with the New American Police State.  The kind of police state they warned us about in speeches on Veteran’s Day when I was in elementary school.

It turns out, my experience isn’t unique in any fashion, except I might have gotten off easy.  Last February in New York,  Robert S. Taylor of Brooklyn was taking photos for fun in a subway station. Police saw him and cited him for unauthorized photography, even though the crime doesn’t actually exist.  Taylor states that charge was dropped, however, they also charged him disorderly conduct.  Ironically, Taylor works for MTA.  He was off duty at the time. More recently, on the other side of the country in California, Andrew Cichowski was taking pictures of the Diridon train station in San José.

I was taking a picture of the barbed wire fence, I heard someone shout “TURN AROUND SLOWLY!” I said “excuse me?” confusedly, and then slowly turned around. To my surprise, two police officers were staring at me. They asked what I was “suspiciously photographing industrial stuff for…” After about 30 minutes, they realized I wasn’t some sort of strange train terrorist, but were still asking me questions. A third officer and third and fourth squad car then arrived. Eventually, they copied the entire contents of my CF card to their police laptop and two flash drives, I told them they could have a copy of the photos as long as they didn’t sell any of them. They smiled and promised not to.  Aside from this being a terribly obnoxious waste of time, it was an interesting experience, and I’m now very likely on some sort of terrorist watch list for being a suspicious photographer…

Just today, someone posted the image at the top of this article which is a sign on a train in Chicago.  It asks citizens to call 911 if they see any suspicious behavior, and it explicitly lists photography and video as one of those suspicious activities.  So where does this leave free citizens who wish to maintain their Constitutional rights?  It leaves us with the burden of asserting ourselves I’m afraid.

Sometimes, the only way to keep a right is by exercising that right.  Therefore, take pictures whenever possible of everything possible, especially of trains, planes and buses.  We must report any police officers, security guards or other so-called officials who attempt to infringe upon our rights to their superiors and watch dog groups such as the ACLU.  Become locally active in photography groups in your area and most importantly, talk about these issues.  Post your experiences online using blogs and social media.  Above all, write your mayor, congressman and senators and tell them if they are incapable of stopping these attacks on our civil rights, we will elect someone who will.

The bottom line, there is now a real threat to the rights of free citizens everywhere, and no one is going to rescue you.  If you want to enjoy the freedom to use your camera when and where you want, you’re going to have to fight.  It’s up to you.

Other sites to check out:
http://tinyurl.com/nopicsinca

http://tinyurl.com/nopicsinny

http://carlosmiller.com/

http://www.nycphotorights.com/

http://tinyurl.com/nopicsintx

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THE LIES, DECIET & DISINFORMATION OF KPFT

The following video is the final response to what began as a question of fairness that developed into an investigation of the integrity of the Pacifica radio…

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END THE FED RALLY – HOUSTON – 11/22/09

On November 22, 2009 Americans around the country will gather to rally against this unconstitutional, private bank.  The Houston Area Liberty Campaign, in conjunction with Young Americans For Liberty – UH Chapter, the Harris County Libertarian Party and Restore the Republic held the End The Fed Rally in Houston from 2 to 4PM, Sunday, 11/22/09.

Jake and I attended the event where there was a variety of speakers from congressional candidates to chiropractors as well as a key note from Ron Paul.   I was particular struck by the diversity of the attendees, that spanned ages, races, political affiliations.  This was an ecletic group of people who were brought togeather by a common purpose, that is to pass legislation authorizing Congress to audit the Federal Reserve.

This event comes on the heals of a Congressional vote  on Thursday 11/19/09 that approved legislation introduced by Congressman Ron Paul to audit the Federal Reserve for the first time in the central bank’s 95-year-history.  The audit will investigate the Federal Reserve monetary policy specifically how much the central bank has lent and will lend to specific banks.  Fed Chief Ben Bernanke and other key members of the Obama administration, including Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, had vigorously opposed the move.

YOU CAN’T TAKE PICTURES ON THE TRAIN…I THNK…

I’ve contacted Metro offices at 713-635-4000 to find out if I can take pictures on the train. The operative seemed shocked that I would ask and said I don’t need permission. Then I told her what happened last night, and she said well METRO Police are the experts, and I should really ask them. So I called the Metro Police at 713-224-2677, and the first officer I spoke with told me that it was illegal for me to take pictures on the train. He explained that if I wanted to, I would need to get permission from MTA…written permission. When I asked if I was on the sidewalk would I be able to take pictures without a permit. Again, he stated no as it would also be illegal. I asked him what law I would be breaking. He said he didn’t know, but because of terrorism, I could not take pictures of the train. When I asked him what terrorism he referred to, he put me on hold and put me on with a supervisor who said the same thing.

When I asked the supervisor what law I would be breaking, and if it a misdemeanor or felony and what would be the nature of the charge, such as theft or driving under the influence, he admitted there was no law strictly prohibiting photography of the train, and that I would not be charged. He said what would most likely happen if I was taking pictures is detainment.

They would run my ID against their terrorist watch list, and if my name did appear on the list then they would take me down to the station, and wait for Homeland Security, and then they would probably release me as there is no law that has been broken. He said that if this happens to ask for a supervisor. Yea right, so what I can get tazed..? I don’t think so…

When I asked him what terrorism involves a private citizen taking images of the train, he said there have been several near misses where bombing plots have been foiled because someone reported a suspicious person taking pictures on the train. He said the media was not alerted to this, but it happens all the time.

So just to clarify, there is no law that prohibits photography of the Metro Light Rail in Houston, but Metro police have still been given the mandate to detain anyone they see with a camera. When I asked the officer, why would a Police Officer quote a law that doesn’t not exist..? He said he can’t control what each individual does when on duty, and he said to file a report if I want…

To some this might seem like much ado about nothing, but consider this, there has been no domestic terrorism since 9/11. There certainly hasn’t been any in Houston. These local police officers are clearly getting their mandate from Homeland Security.

This is a very clear violation of our civil rights specifically freedom of the press. If we don’t exercise this right, we will lose it. I encourage everyone with a camera, board the Metro Rail System and take pictures. Take as many pictures as you can as often as you can. Please post your experiences online and let’s take back our freedom before it becomes a legend. It’s up to you.

Taking Pictures on the Houston Metro Light Rail

Ok, I just called MTA dispatch, and they tell me that photography is prohibited. I asked why, the dispatcher tells me, its because of “Terrorism”. When I asked what taking pictures has to do with terrorism, the dispatch officer told me that taking pictures is what terrorist do. “They come over here and take pictures of our trains and water treatment facilities…” Am I making this up..? Call 713-224-2677.

Check out these similar stories from around the country.
http://tinyurl.com/c7k7zc

http://tinyurl.com/axv8he