Last week I was thrilled to be invited along on an auditing trip to Washington D.C. with News Now Houston’s David Worden.
The road trip took us through the eastern part of the country and gave us a sharp look at how the civil rights we used to enjoy in this country have quickly faded away and how freaked out public officials get when you point a camera in their general direction.
Worden had the basic road trip mapped out with several stops planned along the drive. He also didn’t hesitate to stop when an interesting location came along. Our first stop was planned on the fly when we started seeing signs directing Kentucky drivers to the “Photon Trail” and the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge Tennessee.
The Y-12 security complex was built during WWII as a part of the Manhattan Project. It is considered the birthplace of the atomic bomb, according to Wikipedia. It is also the site of weekly nuclear protests. We were certainly not the first people to come here to exercise our rights, so I didn’t expect much attention.
Worden parked the car directly across the street from the location’s visitor center and we began walking along the roadway taking pictures and recording video. We noticed a couple of the facility’s security trucks watching but they didn’t approach. It seemed as though the facility had passed the audit with flying colors and the two of us were leaving when an Oak Ridge police officer drove up.
Detective Weaver, who was the first officer to approach us, immediately told us that we needed to leave the area, which we would have already done had he not stopped us. Weaver continued to ask Worden questions about our purpose for being there but was interrupted by Officer Sweaten who showed up to ask us for identification.
Sweaten began to explain to us that there had been people at the facility the week before taking pictures of “things they weren’t supposed to” and were detained by the FBI. When David invited Sweaten to tell the FBI to “get their ass over here,” the officer suddenly became offended by the word “ass”. It was the start of several accusations this officer made to try and justify asking Worden for identification.
Kentucky is not a stop and identify state so police officers cannot demand identification from a person who is not driving a vehicle unless they are under arrest. Sweaten, not to be outdone by two photographers, decided to follow us all the way back to the car to make an illegal traffic stop in a private parking lot. He was successful in his attempts to identify Worden, only because we wanted to continue our trip without an arrest at the first location we visited.
This was only the beginning of our interactions with law enforcement during our travels, something that surprised me the most when we arrived in Washington D.C. and where we were approached over and over again while standing peacefully on the public sidewalk taking pictures of historical buildings in one of the most tourists filled cities in the country.