Image by Kent Buckley
You wouldn’t know it since most hacks in the local media are still pretending that police around here are respectful and in check, but four months ago, DigBoston ran a bombshell feature on the right to record authorities in Massachusetts. Despite acknowledgment by some departments in the Bay State that they are legally required to allow people to tape their actions, there have been several instances in which the opposite has transpired. Don’t allow disarming public rhetoric to fool you; though members of law enforcement in this seemingly tolerant state talk a good game, civil liberties and basic rights remain in jeopardy across the Commonwealth.
Among the cases noted in our April round-up, a collaboration with Andrew Quemere of the Bay State Examiner: that of Northeastern student Tyler Welsh, who in 2013 was arrested and charged with wiretapping for recording police near Fenway on the night the Red Sox won the World Series, as well as that of Max Bickford, who last year had his phone snatched away by a Boston cop who was mad about being recorded. “Bickford,” we reported, “said cops handcuffed him, wiped blood on him, and smashed his phone on the ground before he was released.”
Said feature, “You Gotta Fight For Your Right To Record Police,” dropped as America was digging deeper into what has since become a wide and ranging conversation about hideous police activity and counter-surveillance. In the time since, at Boston City Hall and at the state level on Beacon Hill, grassroots citizens groups have made themselves heard, and in response, politicians reaching as far up as state Sen. President Stanley Rosenberg have set legislative wheels in motion toward solutions.
Nevertheless, in light of Boston Police Commissioner William Evans calling for a law that would criminalize the recording of authorities in action, in the face of foul behavior or otherwise, it’s important to acknowledge news from the independent media on this topic. Mainstream tools have looked the other way, the entire time enabling our police state to metastasize, batons to crack, and thousands of surveillance cameras to scan both cars and crowds in spite of ongoing attempts to outlaw the recording of cops. In certain cases, otherwise respected outlets even fondle the perversely swollen scrotum of Big Brother from the sidelines; take, for example, the Boston Globe’s reporting on increasingly ubiquitous license plate tracking, and this lead from a 2014 piece in their metro section:
After years of planning, months of construction work, and a weeks-long trial run with new license plate detection equipment, the Maurice J. Tobin Memorial Bridge officially switched to cash-free tolling Monday morning, and, just as promised, morning rush hour traffic moved a little faster than usual.
In almost all related matters, the Globe is shamelessly asleep on the job, like in their long reports and ruminations on police brutality which fail to mention a single incident in Boston. Others are no better, as deferential non-reporter clowns like Margery Eagan and Jim Braude of WGBH allow Commissioner Evans to regularly spin and lie to the public. To put their journalistic malpractice in perspective, one might say that such reporting is no different from that of comedian Daniel Tosh, who in a sense recently covered the right to record in Mass on his juvenile Comedy Central show. In highlighting a video of a protester from Ashland, Massachusetts who threw a handful of uncooked bacon at a service window inside of a Framingham police station, Tosh, whose program (like every news show in America, sensational or otherwise) relies on the right to record in public, completely missed the point of the direct action, and instead made fat jokes about the journalist on hand who taped the bacon toss.
With such maturity dominating the conversation, from basic cable all the way to NPR, we once again turn to the likes of Andrew and his partner at the independent Examiner, Maya Shaffer, who explain: “If a law like the one Evans hopes to see passes, it could potentially make it illegal to record police in almost any circumstance. Any time a police officer approached a person, it would be illegal for that person to record the interaction if the cop got close enough to them.” They should know, since in his speaking out against those who watch the authorities, the commissioner actually noted an instance in which the Examiner caught footage of his gang in goon mode.
“I’m glad Evans finally admits that the public needs legal protection when they record his officers,” says Shaffer. “I’ve needed protection from the Boston police for years as they have threatened me with false arrests, with ‘physical removal’ from a public building, and [when they] shoved me around.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated that the gentleman who took the video at the Framingham police station was an activist. He is not an activist, but rather a crime reporter who was there when the incident occurred. Thanks to Adam Gaffin at Universal Hub for the note. We regret the error.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.