Civil rights activists: Filming police is essential


SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) – The French government is considering a controversial bill that would ban posting videos of their police online but critics argue this would hurt press freedom.

It may be thousands of miles away but the issue hits home for civil rights activists who say the right to film police have been challenged many times in America and it’s crucial a global player who is our ally protects that right for their people too.

In recent years, citizen journalists have increasingly used their cell phones to capture video of police altercations that at times have turned deadly.

In the 2009 case of Oscar Grant, the 22-year-old Oakland man was wrongfully killed by BART police and it was recorded on camera by witnesses.

His family credits that video evidence for California’s first conviction of an officer and civil rights advocates explain these recordings are a critical check and balance.

“Cellphone video footage has been essential to bringing to light what we know has been endemic to US society since its founding and that has been abuse by police officers of Black and brown people,” Zach Norris, executive director of Ella Baker Center, said. 

But in the past decade, ACLU lawyers have been battling in courts across America to preserve the right to film police in public, as it has been challenged in numerous lawsuits by police to stop people from recording.

This week France, a US ally and major world player has introduced a new bill that would ban any media published online of police officers if it came with the intent to cause them harm.

Offenders would face up to one year in prison and a 45,000-Euro fine.  

This sparked an outcry from civil rights activists and reporters who fear this will put press freedom at risk.

The French Interior Minister downplayed any impact for journalists.

“Are journalists going to be able to continue filming? The answer is yes. Are they going to be able to continue broadcasting? The answer is yes. Are civilians going to be allowed to film a police intervention? The answer is yes,” Gerald Darmanin said. 

Although happening on the opposite hemisphere the executive director of the Ella Baker Center in Oakland says it’s important to keep a watchful eye on the upcoming decision abroad as Americans continue the work to preserve civil rights in the United States.

Where the US Press Freedom Tracker reports since 2017, 125 journalists have been arrested while covering protests.

“If we allow the continued erosion of civil rights and civil liberties especially in countries that the United States considers an ally, then we put ourselves at peril as well,” Norris said. 

The French National Assembly is scheduled to vote next week on the bill, which will then go to the Senate.

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