Francisco Alvarado has been a reporter in Miami for the past 15 years, and has been with the alt-weekly Miami New Times for the past decade. This January, he wrote a mini-feature naming Photography is Not a Crime as one of the city’s best blogs. While some people in the community think that Miller is simply out for attention, “I think he’s really serious about holding police accountable,” says Alvarado. “His style is definitely abrasive, and in your face, but he gets stuff out there, and it is news.”
Miller never runs out of things to say when he talks about filming police. This shows through on his blog, which he updates at least once a day, sometimes more, with posts that are usually between 500 and 1000 words. He has a regular commenting community; while comments on a story have gone into the hundreds, the number usually stays in the double digits. His blog has received over 7 million hits since it first started. It’s housed on a photography website called Pixiq, which is owned by Barnes and Noble, and Miller gets paid based on page views. He says May is on track to be a record month for traffic; he’s had over 560,000 page views in the last 30 days.
Though most of his posts are about other photographers’ run-ins with police, Miller also covers his own exploits. He’s attempted to go through airport security with his camera rolling and the TSA’s policy printed and ready to show to agents. After being told a number of times he couldn’t record he happily blogged this February that a TSA agent knew the official policy and let him pass through. He conducted similar experiments on Miami’s Metrorail. The first time, he and a friend went with a print out of the law in their hand to “see if the Metrorail security guards knew the law when it came to photography. “They didn’t,” says Miller, who ended up permanently banned from the Metrorail system.
A month later, a news crew from Denver came to do a story on Miller, and when they asked where he wanted to film, he suggested they go back to the Metrorail. He ends up in an altercation with a security guard, who tries to slap his iPhone out of his hand. In response, Miller punched the guard. (All of this was caught on tape.) When police came, they watched the video and didn’t charge Miller, even though the security guard had a bloody lip, because the tape showed that the guard hit first. “I realized I can’t be so reactive,” says Miller. “But this also shows why it’s important to have cameras. They would have taken the word of the security guard over mine.” He has a pending lawsuit with the Metrorail for that incident.
“I do have a reputation, and I can see why people say I’m a troublemaker. I can admit that. I’m a rabble rouser. I go out and stand up for my rights,” says Miller. “I’m a journalist first, but I’m an activist when it comes to photography.”
On May 3, nine journalism and civil rights organizations sent a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder, asking that law enforcement agencies be held accountable for intimidating and arresting people recording in public. “The right to record is an essential component of our rights at a time when so many of those witnessing public protests carry networked, camera-ready devices such as smartphones,” reads the letter. “We the undersigned call on authorities at the local, state and federal level to stop their assault on people attempting to document protests and other events unfolding in public spaces.”
Josh Stearns, the journalism and public media campaign director for Free Press, says the combination of traditional press associations with digital rights organizations was intentional. “We focused on not the amount of signers but having a small group of the right people who get at every angle of this issue,” says Stearns. “That combination of free speech, free press, and digital rights is really important as we move forward and think about how we advocate for the First Amendment in the digital age.”
Stearns says the timing of the letter to AG Holder was deliberate. “We want to assert the importance of these next couple months as a time where we need to be watching this and responding carefully,” says Stearns. “I think the key is to get away from treating this as a case-by-case basis and acknowledging there’s a national trend here.”