Last week, Jeff Gray of Photography is Not a Crime demonstrated an inconvenient truth about how the War on Terror has turned soldiers who proclaim to fight and die for our freedoms against the very same citizens who actively exercise these freedoms.
For those of us paying attention, we know another war was also declared on 9/11/2001. The war on individual liberty, and it is being fought right here on the streets of America
As part of Gray’s ongoing First Amendment Audit series, he paid a visit to Patrick Air Force Base near Cocoa Beach, Florida and was approached in short time by U.S. Air Force Officer Kench who wanted to know what Gray was photographing. Kench was especially concerned with Gray photographing the gate to the air force base, which is visible to anybody driving by.
Gray politely responded by stating he was just taking pictures out in public. In a free country, this is where the conversation would end, everyone would go about their business, and Jeff Gray would have no footage to post to Youtube. At least nothing that will go viral because boring conversations turn into boring videos.
But as we have learned over the years, exercising your First Amendment rights to take photos in public is looked upon as “suspicious” and video recording government institutions is viewed as “terroristic” activity.
Officer Kench then openly attempts to violate Gray’s First Amendment right to record in public by telling him that he can’t record the base entrance gate since the base is under a higher “threat level.” He then mentions something about ISIS and even asks Gray if he could view the images captured on the camera.
“Do you mind if I see the pictures,” Kench asks. Gray quickly responds, “Uh, no. You’re not going to see my pictures.”
Sensing that he was being led down an endless line of questioning, Gray asserts his right to remain silent, telling the soldier he won’t be answering any more questions, handing him the infamous Fair DUI Flyer, which states in big bold letters, “I remain silent, No Searches, I want my lawyer.”
After reading the flyer, it was clear that Kench had met his match. After calling in for back up, Kench continues to plead with Gray to show some identification as he seemingly can’t understand why a citizen, who has committed no crime, would not want their name and information on a “field interview card,” which would most likely be misused by some sort of law enforcement Fusion Center.
After several minutes, two additional uniformed police soldiers arrive on scene along with a plainclothes U.S. Air Force investigator named Blackman. The security charade continues when Blackman poses a few nonchalant questions at Gray:
“You know why we’re out here talking to you, correct?”
“Did you Drive here?”
“Are you from Florida?”
All of which Gray responded by invoking his right to remain silent. However, at this point investigator Blackman was still in possession of the Fair DUI Flyer, so Gray politely asked if he could get his property back. The response was detestable:
“Yeah, when we’re ready to let you go.”
Although Gray was not officially being detained by the Air Force Police, Investigator Blackman was using any leverage he could, including holding property hostage, to stall long enough for the local civilian police to arrive. And as some of you may remember, that local law enforcement agency, the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, arrested Gray in 2013 for video recording them in a case that was ultimately dismissed.
When Brevard sheriff’s deputy Hendrix arrived on the scene, he was informed by the military police that Gray was being “uncooperative” by refusing to show his identification, even though Gray was more than forthcoming about his intentions to record public officials in public and was not under any legal obligation to provide identification.
Deputy Hendrix’s attitude would best be described as perturbed. After rattling off a bunch of trumped-up charges he could throw at Gray, the deputy ironically suggested that Gray did not believe in the rule of law. Only in a police state can a police officer suggest that a citizen, who flexes his inherent right to be secure in his person and property, can be accused of not believing in the rule of law.
After a brief back and forth, deputy Hendrix claimed to support Constitutional rights, but in the very next breath, he sarcastically states, “no one wants to stomp on your precious rights, ok?”
Hendrix leaves the scene to call his supervisor, leaving his colleague, Bert Berrios of the Satellite Beach Police Department, to monitor Gray. He immediately tells gray to keep his hands away from his camera, which was hanging from his neck because he didn’t know what it was, insinuating it was a weapon.
“I don’t know what it is. Don’t even reach for the camera. I don’t care of its recording, don’t touch it because I don’t know what that actually is.”
The War on Terror not only has the authorities scared to death of citizens who photograph government buildings, it has left them terrified of recording devices that have become so common, most everybody owns one.
Deputy Hendrix never did hear back from his supervisor and he made it clear that Gray was not being detained. However, part two of the encounter shows both the military police and civilian officers tracking Gray back to his vehicle so they can run his license plate and likely add another incident report to his growing file within the Florida Fusion Center.
The over-the-top response by law enforcement to a citizen peacefully taking pictures in public, which are already available on Google Maps, is just plain sad. Hopefully there comes a day when law enforcement realizes that individual liberty is vastly more important than keeping up a false sense of security. Watch both videos below.