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I have long been a supporter of constitutional rights, particularly when it applies to free speech, freedom of artistic expression, and freedom to worship (or not) as one chooses. That’s why this post by photography critic A. D. Coleman caught my eye and why I though it important to share it with you.

Unlike Coleman, I’m not at all surprised that George Will would come down on the side of the U.S. Constitution. He might be considerably to my right on the political spectrum, but Will is an intelligent and thoughtful analyst. He understands that the Constitution’s First Amendment doesn’t say freedom of speech gets suspended because the country gets paranoid about terrorists.

Look, cops have a difficult job, a job I would certainly never try to do. It seems to me, however, that trampling on the my rights as a visual artist n the name of the War on Terror just hands the terrorists a victory because they’ve made America considerably less American.

I would not suggest that law enforcement be stripped of it’s power to protect the public safety just so I could go shoot pictures someplace. But if you watch the video in Coleman’s post, the one with the L.A. County Deputy Sheriff rousting a photographer exercising his legal rights, an exchange that includes both threats and outright lies, I can’t see any reasonable person not concluding that the cop is a fascist who has no right to carry a badge.

Sure, the photographer was looking for a confrontation, I can’t see any other good reason to travel with a videographer. It’s still scary to me that the activist clearly has a better understanding of law than the cop.

Look the the photograph below, taken by me last July:

The Journey Home: On Niagara Street (©2011 Richard X. Moore)

Careful reading of the sections of protocols for reporting “suspicious activites” would direct a police officer to bust my ass if (s)he thought I was acting in a suspicious manner with come connection to terrorism. Even though I think the possibility is absurd, I can make a logical argument for doing just that.

Think about it. Here in this photograph you can find telephone lines (the nation’s communication network), railroad tracks (the nation’s transportation network), and grain elevators (the nation’s food supply). The protocol permits the officer to decide that my work has “no apparent aesthetic value” and, before you know it, I’m reported to the Justice Department.

I doubt it would ever happen, in Saginaw anyway. But it makes me sick to live in a land where anyone with a camera is fair game for law enforcement harassment.

If we, as a nation, want to put certain facilities off-limits to photographers, let’s have that debate. Let’s not leave it to the discretion of people who clearly have none.

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