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The First Amendment right to record the police

December 6, 2011

Support Fly Benzo twice on Friday, Jan. 6:

1) Pack the courtroom for the first day of his trial on Friday, Jan. 6, 9 a.m., at 850 Bryant in Department 22

2) Party with Fly at his ‘Conscious Minds at Work Reggae, Arts and Hip-Hop Mixer & Fundraiser’ on Friday, Jan. 6, 7 p.m., at Twin Space Continuum, 2111 Mission St., Third Floor #300, San Francisco

by Fly Benzo (DeBray Carpenter)


Fly Benzo lets the community know that police are retaliating against him. This is Mendell Plaza, the central gathering place in Bayview Hunters Point.
According to the United States Constitution, the First Amendment is written as follows:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

There have been many instances when video evidence has contradicted an officer’s testimony and either an officer was convicted of wrongdoing or a suspect’s charges have been overturned or dismissed. In the interest of justice and the protection of United States citizens from abuse of authoritative power, there is no logical reason why there should be a law prohibiting the filming of police officers other than blatant governmental repression.

Gayle Falkenthal, in her Washington Times article, “All Journalism Is Citizen Journalism,” clarified that in the case Glik v. Cunniffe, the court ruled that a citizen’s right to film government officials is protected by the First Amendment. Simon Glik, a client of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), was arrested for “illegal wiretapping” after he recorded officers using force to arrest a young man on the Boston Common. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, on Aug. 26, 2011, “ruled that a private citizen’s right to videotape police officers performing their duties in a public space is ‘unambiguously’ protected by the First Amendment.”

This is how copwatcher Fly Benzo is treated by SFPD – in full daylight in Mendell Plaza in full view of a crowd of community residents. – Video frame: TryntaGetIt
Richard Winton, in his article, “Sheriff’s Department sued over detention of photographers,” expressed the fact that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department on behalf of the National Press Photographers Association and three photographers who were harassed, detained and illegally searched while legally taking pictures in public places. The senior staff attorney for the ACLU declared that “photography is not a crime” and that for the police “to single them out for such treatment while they’re pursuing a constitutionally protected activity is doubly wrong.”

Thomas Clouse and Meghann M. Cuniff, in their Spokesman newspaper article, report on one case in which an officer was convicted of wrongdoing after a store’s surveillance tapes told a different story than the officer in question. Spokane Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. claimed that Otto Zehm assaulted him in his 2006 encounter in which Zehm was beaten and tased into a coma from which he never recovered. Three years later the FBI launched a federal investigation. The jury, after review of the video evidence in contrast with Thompson’s statement, convicted him of excessive force as well as lying to investigators. This is one case in which video footage has served to ensure that justice was served and that an officer did not completely get away with murder.

Fly Benzo rides the T-Train, the light rail line that connects downtown San Francisco to Bayview Hunters Point, Fly’s lifelong home. The T-Train has been central to controversies over the community’s exclusion from construction jobs when it was built and, since then, over police abuse of passengers who cannot show them a transfer as proof they’ve paid their fare. Police murdered Kenneth Harding, 19, on July 16, 2011, for lack of a $2 transfer.
Another case in which video evidence has been used to convict an officer was the 2009 shooting of BART (San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit) rider Oscar Grant by former BART PD Officer Johannes Mehserle. Although many people were outraged with the verdict and the short amount of time Mehserle served in custody, it was video evidence from several onlookers’ cell phones that aided the prosecution in the historic involuntary manslaughter conviction. Johannes Mehserle was another case of a cop who almost got away with murder, as well as an officer whose testimony contradicted the videos of the respective incidents and, therefore, yet another reason filming government officials is rightfully protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

According to the May 27, 2011, press release of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, Officer Peter Richardson arrested Jesus Inastrilla and claimed that three undercover officers arrested Inastrilla after witnessing him spit a crack rock in his hand and sell it to Officer Guerrero, one of the undercover officers. However, video footage shows that no exchange was made. The charges were dropped after Guerrero claimed that he could not locate the alleged seized drugs in evidence.

The same day in San Francisco, 25 other cases were dropped due to lack of evidence, police credibility issues and a string of tapes with contradictory evidence to that of the statements of officers. With this lack of accountability and integrity of sworn SFPD officers, without cameras, there is no way of knowing whether or not an innocent person will be wrongfully convicted. Therefore, the protection of citizens with cameras is absolutely necessary in the best interest of justice.

San Francisco Examiner Staff Writer Brent Begin, in his article “San Francisco police to carry video cameras during arrests,” asserts that the misconduct of officers had become so prevalent and the controversy so widespread that SF Police Chief Greg Suhr proposed the idea of equipping SFPD officers with cameras to record their arrests, especially in drug cases and cases that require consent or a search warrant. These ideas come in the wake of the aforementioned string of videos. The officers involved in the arrests in question were all removed from plainclothes duty pending further investigation; however, Chief Suhr insists that the officers are innocent until proven guilty. Being an officer of the law requires a person hold himself to a higher standard and, with their superior officers brushing such violations off in such a way, justice cannot possibly be served.

This serene scene is Mendell Plaza as it should be used. Fly Benzo (DeBray Carpenter) is at far right; his father, contractor and community leader Claude Carpenter, teaches drumming to a youngster in the foreground. Too often, however, SFPD destroys the peace by barging in and harassing, beating and arresting people without provocation.
By exerting such abuses of authority, officers of the law make justice unattainable without the interference of good Samaritans and “copwatchers” who record the cops’ often reckless and over the top behavior. Also, as in the cases of Mehserle and Inastrilla, the American people cannot trust officers of the law to police themselves and their fellow officers, because time and time again they have lied under oath and violated the rights of, and even killed citizens unlawfully and conspired amongst themselves to continue to sweep things under the rug.

The right to film officers while performing their duties in a public space is rightfully protected by the First Amendment and it is evident that political prisoners as well as the family members of those wrongfully killed by police officers are thankful for the court ruling that helps make justice possible for them and their respective families.

Fly Benzo, aka DeBray Carpenter, has become the Bay Area’s best known copwatcher for his monitoring of San Francisco police, especially since they murdered Kenneth Harding on July 16, 2011, and for his targeting by police for a series of retaliatory beatings and jailings. He is a student at City College and an accomplished videographer and journalist as well as a popular rapper. Bay Area residents are urged to pack the courtroom for his next court appearance – he faces four years in state prison for copwatching – on Monday, Dec. 12, 10 a.m., at 850 Bryant St., San Francisco, in Department 23. On Wednesday, Dec. 21, 8 p.m., a fundraiser party for Block Report Radio will feature performances by Fly Benzo and other rappers, including Ms. B, 5 Star Generalz and S. Venom at Twinspace, 2111 Mission St., San Francisco. Fly can be reached on Facebook or at blackstarlinercoalition@gmail.com. To hear more from Fly and learn about his case, see “Police critic Fly Benzo keeps catching hell since police murder of Kenneth Harding,” an interview with Fly by Minister of Information JR.

This is the incident that led to Fly Benzo currently facing four years in prison. Readers are urged to pack the courtroom for his trial, beginning on Friday, Jan. 6, 9 a.m., at 850 Bryant St., San Francisco, in Department 22.

Note by mezkillercop

The day after this event (to announce the annual October 22nd Protest Against Police Brutality), Fly Benzo was beaten and arrested by the police. … After most of the speakers spoke, the police came and told us to shut off the sound system because we did not have a permit. One of the more vocal people who spoke up was Fly, who pointed out the pettiness of the police action when there were unsolved murders in the neighborhood. Note the passive aggression being displayed when the officer’s hand is playing around with his gun when Fly was speaking out. Fly’s arrest is police retaliation plain and simple. It’s unjust and corrupt.

Just like the unsolved murder of Tupac Shakur, whose mother was a Black Panther, the “powers that be” like to shut up popular music artists who people can rally around. This is the same thing. Fly Benzo is a talented hip hop artist who has a future. He also speaks out about the police repression in his community, San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point. The “powers that be” who tell the police what to do want to silence him.

 

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