Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bastion of the First Amendment?

With such a variety of protests — climate change, World AIDS Day, even Uzbek refugees — in front of the White House yesterday, it'd be nice to report that Lafayette Park and the closed stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue are a bastion of the First Amendment.

But it's not always the case. My colleague Mannie, a White House news photographer, snapped an image of a couple protesters in the street that happened to include a uniformed member of the Secret Service in the distance. The officer approached Manny, demanded he delete the photo, and then actually chased him a little ways and tried to snatch his camera away. What was the officer — who later refused to identify himself — thinking? If he'd managed to grab the camera, what would he have done with it? Hide it like the squirrels hide the nuts in Lafayette Park?

Anyway, Mannie, after demanding to know if he was under arrest, escaped and went back to his job. Later, when the incident was discussed with a sergeant with the Secret Service, the sergeant affirmed that police have no right to order people to delete photos, or to control what is photographed. He mentioned that this was a new part of their training. (I thought the concept was pretty well established in 1791, the year the Bill of Rights was ratified.)

Incidents like this have been reported around town, in places like Union Station, the Metro, downtown streets. But it was unusual to see it happen with the Secret Service, normally a highly professional, and even mellow, group — the same officers who calmly watched AIDS activists roll a coffin up the street just a half hour later.

UPDATE -- PDN Pulse has interviewed the photographer, and posted the photo the officer ordered deleted: And as they point out -- the photographer involved is the same whose photo of President Obama was the basis for the famous "Hope" poster!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any idea why the whole park is closed off today?

December 2, 2010 at 2:37 PM  

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