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.”
Miller’s trial is scheduled for July 25, 2012, and he’s raising money for his defense through his blog. “After the trial, I will file civil suit for deleting my footage. We need to send a message we won’t tolerate that,” says Miller. Officer Nancy Perez, the Miami-Dade policewoman who halted Miller at the Occupy eviction, maintains that the police did not delete his footage. “I can count seven videographers that were there taping the whole thing,” says Perez. “I had my own videographer there. Why would I need his?”
Officer Perez says that the bottom line is that people have the right to record officers. “They are not breaking the law,” says Perez, but she explains why she thinks these arrests might be happening. “I think there is a certain paranoia that’s occurring,” says Perez. “It’s not that they’re just going to show them in the line of duty. It’s the fact that a lot of unethical people do edit stuff and then spin it for other reasons.”
Perez says that possessing a press pass has nothing to do with people’s ability to record in public; but many police around the country do ask for credentials, and Stearns says that identifying yourself and your intentions is a good first step. “It shouldn’t be a necessity for your First Amendment rights to be protected, but I think in the heat of the moment, that is a helpful thing,” says Stearns.