When a Miami Beach officer started loudly berating Robert Hammonds and his friends in September 2009, the aspiring filmmaker did what came naturally: He pulled out his videocamera and filmed it. Hammonds had no idea that that simple act would cast him into the middle of one of the hottest fights in civil liberties laws today: Can police arrest you just for videotaping them?
In a dozen states like Florida that have laws requiring all parties to consent to an audio recording, some police say yes. In Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland, citizen journalists have been arrested and charged with "illegal wiretapping" for taping cops in public.
In South Florida, the ACLU recently filed a suit on behalf of a Boynton Beach mom who was booked on similar charges after filming police officers who'd detained her teenage son for "trespassing" at a movie theater.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Miami New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Miami's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Hammonds and his friends didn't know about all that legal infighting when they decided to start filming on South Beach a year and a half ago. But their basic belief that they have a right to film cops at work has landed them in a world of trouble: thousands in fines, nights in county lockup -- even their faces plastered on a warning poster sent to departments around town.
You can read about Hammonds story in depth in this week's New Times. In the meantime, check out the trailer for a documentary the friends are editing with the six hours of footage they've shot during their various encounters with local police. (And take a look at their Indigogo page for a full account of their project.)