Yesterday, Breitbart Texas highlighted a particularly stupid bill that is being pushed by Texas State Rep. Jason Villalba which would, in essence, make it illegal for any person (other than media) to film cops while they are performing their duties from a distance of less than 25 feet (or 100 feet if you are legally carrying a concealed weapon, for some reason). As written, Villalba’s bill is likely unconstitutional as well as completely devoid of reason or sense. If, as Villalba claims, it is necessary for people to “just move back” while the cops are doing their job, then it is no less necessary for the person to “just move back” if they are a reporter for the Dallas Morning News, or Breitbart Texas, or any other ordinary citizen who has their cell phone handy.
What I’m most interested in is the impulse that leads people to suggest these bills in the first place. Nowhere in the story does Villalba indicate or refer to even a single instance where someone who was filming a police officer in too close of a proximity caused any sort of safety issue for police, especially given the fact that if anyone did so they would already be subject to criminal penalty under Texas law. Villalba’s lame defense to the question shows how pointless and unnecessary this law is:
Villalba was also asked why he believed current law — under which a police officer already has the power to instruct people to move back, clear an area, etc. and can arrest anyone who does not comply — was an inadequate protection for the officers. Villalba toldBreitbart Texas that “if you’ve seen these videos, sometimes in the heat of these operations, there’s no time to instruct the crowds to get back.” He described a scenario where there was only one officer on the scene and is getting physically assaulted by the perpetrators he is trying to arrest. “The officer’s trying to do his job, the officer can’t tell the perpetrators, ‘hey stop beating me, I’m going to tell these people to step back and stop filming,’ that just doesn’t occur.”
Notably, Villalba cannot or did not refer to a single instance of this actually happening. And, again, even if it did happen, any person recording the officer who did so closely enough to interfere with the officer’s ability to deal with the suspect in question would already be subject to penalty under Texas law. The only thing Villalba’s law accomplishes is to make it more difficult for private citizens to accurately and clearly record cops during the course of their interactions with citizens.
Which, of course, is exactly the point. A person who is standing and watching an altercation between police and a suspect without a videocamera or camera phone is definitionally no more of an obstruction or safety hazard to the cop than the citizen who is watching the police with one. The presence of a camera or camera phone in your hand doesn’t make you more dangerous or hazardous to police whatsoever, at least in the physical sense. What it does make you is more dangerous or hazardous to the police in the context of possible criminal prosecution or internal discipline for the police. And that is what the police lobbyists who have somehow prevailed upon authoritarian stooges like Villalba want to eliminate.
As the Breitbart article notes, they have already attempted numerous times (and succeeded in many cases) to prevail upon state legislatures to just flat make recording of cops illegal, but those laws have uniformly been struck down by courts as unconstitutional. So they are now trying the next best thing, which is to at least make the recording unclear and allow for more ambiguity. If this were about safety of the officer, the proposed law would require everyone to get back 25 feet when police officers were performing their official duties. The fact that it only requires people with a camera to get back clearly indicates the authoritarian impulse behind the law.
Real supporters of good police want the police to be recorded at every time possible. If the police are involved in a clean stop and are respecting the constitutional rights of citizens, they will want that recorded for the sake of clearing their name as well. Supporters of authoritarianism and covering up for bad cops want laws like Rep. Villalba’s to pass.