Photo by MindfulWalker
Drew Wheelan, conservation coordinator for the American Birding Association chose to film a video in Houma, Louisiana, with a BP building in the background. He stood right in a field that was private property but was not owned by BP. A police officer approached him and asked him for ID and "strongly suggested" he get lost because BP didn't want people filming.
The two went back and forth. Wheelan asked if he was "violating any laws or anything like that." The officer said "not particularly" but that BP didn't want people filming. Wheelan said he was not on BP's property and they had nothing to say about what he was doing right now. The officer restated that BP didn't want people filming and then added all he could really do is strongly suggest he "not film anything right now. If that makes any sense."
Wheelan continued the work he was doing. He finished up, got in his car and drove away only to be pulled over by the same cop. This time the cop had someone with him named Kenneth Thomas, who had a badge that read "Chief BP Security." Thomas interrogated Wheelan for 20 minutes asking "who he worked with, who he answered to, what he was doing, why he was down here in Louisiana, "phoned Wheelan's information in, tried to figure out if he had any outstanding warrants, and then confiscated Wheelan's Audubon volunteer badge from an Audubon/BP bird-helper volunteer training he had recently attended.
After bullying Wheelan for a period of time, he was let go, but as he drove away, "two unmarked security cars" followed him. He pulled over to figure out if they were following him. Each time he pulled over, the two unmarked vehicles pulled over behind him.
This is what Mac McClelland reported weeks ago from Louisiana. It's one example of the authoritarian state that the corporation, BP, and the government, through the Coast Guard, National Guard, police officers, etc, have erected in the aftermath of the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. In the context of the society we live in, it is less of an anomaly than one might think.
Under "Spy Files," in a post published in the last week of June titled, "More About Suspicious Activity Reporting," the ACLU connects the targeting of photographers to the expansion of "suspicious activity reporting" (SAR) programs (programs set up to encourage the public to report "suspicious' activities of their neighbors to law enforcement or intelligence agencies"):
Photographers appear to be the most frequent targets of SAR and SAR-like information collection efforts. Whether lawfully photographing scenic railroad stations, government-commissioned art displays outside federal buildings or national landmarks, citizens, artists and journalists have been systematically harassed or detained by federal, state, and local law enforcement.In some instances, the ensuing confrontation with police escalates to the point where the photographer is arrested and their photos erased or cameras confiscated with no reasonable indication that criminal activity is involved.A Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputy even threatened to put a subway photographer on the Terrorist Watchlist.
Comedian Stephen Colbert had a light-hearted take on the story of a man arrested by Amtrak police for photographing an Amtrak train for an Amtrak photography contest, but illegal arrests of innocent Americans exercising their right to photograph in public (like this and this and this) are happening too often to be just a laughing matter.Congress held hearings into the harassment of photographers at Washington, D.C.'s Union Station and at the U.S. Department of Transportation\. Several government agencies, including the New York Police Department (NYPD), the San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority (MUNI), the Department of Transportation, and Amtrak have had to send out memos to their police officers and security personnel reiterating that photography is not a crime.Given the contradictory messages sent by SAR programs, however, it is not surprising there is confusion among the officers on the street"