Another Update on the Carlos Miller Arrest Story

Carlos Miller Police PhotoCarlos Miller Police Photo Hosted on Zooomr

So the arrest stories that I’ve been running on Miami journalist Carlos Miller have been getting a lot of attention. The story has appeared now on both Digg and BoingBoing and has generated quite a few comments with regards to the matter.

A couple of things I’d like to point out. First, I have been in contact with Carlos Miller directly on this matter. Carlos has not responded directly in these threads and forums to some of the criticism because there may be legal action pending on this one. For what it’s worth, I hope he wins. But because of potential pending legal action he can’t really carry on in the debate on this one at this time. He is reading the comments of course.

Carlos sent me the photo above which was one of the first photos that he took. In response to people who say that he was initially shooting in their face and not 20 yards away you can see his distance in this photo.

But what I also see in this photo is that the accident scene that the police are working on is not particularly a busy one. There is not rushing traffic by it. In fact there is a “Road Closed” sign right behind it. Seeing this photo makes me question why the police felt it was a safety hazard having him near them shooting. I think it’s more plausible that these cops simply did not want their picture taken and someone stood up to them.

Now. Some people have suggested that Carlos is in the wrong here simply because when a cop tells you to do something, well, you’d damn well better do it. But here’s the thing. These cops absolutely should *never* have asked Carlos not to photograph them in the first place. They should know that as public officers that they are allowed to be photographed. This has gone to court. The case is settled. But when he defied them they still should have taken the high road and just put up with it. Because again, the courts have ruled that having the ability to photograph the police is an important First Amendment right.

I’m glad that Carlos insisted on shooting the police even when asked not to because he stood up for my rights and the rights of every other photographer. The problem is that if everyone just does whats asked of them in the interest of “getting along” then abuse like this can happen. It reinforces it. I get in scuttlebutts with security guards at buildings here in San Francisco all the time when they tell me I can’t photograph their building. A lot of people criticize me saying why don’t you just do what your told? Why do you have to be a prick?

The reason why is because the security guards have no right asking me not to photograph a building from a public street in the first place. Likewise the police, in my opinion here, had no right to ask Carlos not to photograph them. Look at the photo above. There are plenty of places he could have shot this scene from without being a danger to himself or others.

Some people have objected to the flash. Saying that it’s uncomfortable doing your job with a flash firing. Well it’s uncomfortable for the celebrities that have the paparazzi shooting flash at them too. But it’s not illegal. The fact of the matter is that our government and courts have ruled that when in public, photographers can take pictures of people. If people don’t like this then have the rules changed. But until then it’s not illegal to take a photo of someone with a flash.

Other people have suggested that it’s just rude to take a photo of someone who does not want their photo taken. I happen to actually agree with this kind of. I’ve actually had plenty of people who afterwards asked me not to photograph them and almost every time I’ve complied. But there are times when I haven’t and that’s when people are abusing their power. Telling me I can’t shoot a building. Running illegal background checks on me etc. Telling me not to shoot something that is not their person or their family.

Anyways, I’m glad to see that this issue is getting the attention that it deserves. I’m sad to read comments from people saying that Carlos was in the wrong for simply not listening to the police. This kind of attitude that the police can do what they want with impunity may in fact be a sad fact of life in places, but the only way to make things right is for the Carlos Millers of the world to stick up for themselves when this abuse occurs. I’d hope that I’d have the guts to stick up for myself the way Carlos did.

I actually really like the police in general. Some of my closest friends are cops, family members of mine are cops. I don’t think all cops are bad. I think most cops play by the rules and act accordingly. I shoot cops here in San Francisco all the time and never have had a problem. When I shot a police action on Market Street here about a year and a half ago this cop actually turned to me after I shot him and made a joke saying, “make sure you get my good side.” That attitude is refreshing. I appreciate that cop and the hard work that he does for me here in San Francisco. What I don’t appreciate is cops who overstep their authority and abuse their power. And that is what I think happened to Carlos Miller.

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  1. SF Buckaroo says:

    Blindly issuing orders irregardless of any actual law is symptomatic of the larger problem in this country: the way the current administration has issued one order after the next basically by fiat, ignoring the “rule of law” in the “war on terror.” at the end of the day, police are charged with upholding *laws*. That’s why they call the show “Law and Order.” In my encounters with security and police officers while trying to take photos, I always ask “what is the law I am violating?” Only ONCE did an officer actually admit there was no law against photography. All the other times (about 10) the officers did not even seem to get the concept that *laws* are why we have *police*. If it were not for this “Law and Order” system, we would be living in a *police* state– have we already passed that point?

  2. Thanks for keeping us updated on this, and I completely agree with the main points of your essay.

  3. Jack says:

    I was in Times Square this past weekend. There was a strong police presence, but the police happily posed for tourists when asked. The flower district is pretty tense with the evictions. I asked before shooting each shop. I’ve rarely been denied an opportunity for a photograph when I’ve asked. I take many public photos without asking. When I sense tension, I’ll usually do everything possible to break the ice. If you look for a fight, you will usually find one.


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  4. Hemaworstje says:

    aah well . every country get’s what it deserves.horno photjournalists and triggerhappy coppers.

    blame it on your population that you have a goverment having rules like that and police acting like this.
    a hyped country it is. blownout of proportions.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I have been harassed many times for photographing on public ways. This even happened years before 9/11. What amazes me is there are so many shootings, robberies, car thefts, home invasions, rapes, etc. Yet all the while the cops can’t even put a dent in those but have time to investigate somebody taking photos? It seems to me law enforcement flunks in time and resource management.

  6. Anonymous says:

    You’re not serious about using still photos to decide who’s right & who’s wrong? How do you know what happened between photos? Have you seen ALL photos?

  7. Anonymous says:

    I know I’m a little late to this party, but here’s my two cent’s worth.

    I’ve lived in Miami my entire life and have known quite a few Miami and Metro cops, including a few who are good friends. I’ve partied with these guys and had opportunities to hear their stories, both good and bad. And based on what I’ve heard, I think Miller probably stumbled upon a few of the, shall we say, less that upstanding officers. To their credit, they tried to warn Miller, saying “You need to keep moving. This is a private matter.” Note that they didn’t say “this is official police business” in which case they probably couldn’t have cared less if he wanted to photograph them. Maybe Miller isn’t very street smart, or at least not very “Miami street smart,” because if he were to put two and two together he might have said “Oh… okay, c’ya later guys” and walked away. Now I can’t say for certain what was going on that night, but five offices in that section of Biscayne Blvd… sounds like they were shaking down a petty drug dealer to me. What I can say is that it happens a lot. So the next time a Miami police officer tells you “this is a private matter”… have a clue and don’t try to take photos. Miller was right about one thing, -he- wasn’t breaking the law that night.

  8. mkultra says:

    I only recently came across your blog entries regarding being harassed/detained by private security guards and the Oakland sheriff. I’m glad to see it’s sparked such a lively debate. We *need* to be talking about these things.

    Anytime we, as the public, allow fear to erode any of our constitutional rights, it’s a win for the idiots who desire to instill such fear in us.

    We *clearly* have the constitutional right to take photographs in public places. We *clearly* have the right to photograph police during the execution of their duties, as long as we do not interfere with them. These freedoms are critical because they ensure the public’s ability to prevent abuse of power and accurately document events that take place in the, “public forum.” These rights have been upheld, unequivocally, via case law over the years.

    We also all have the right to expect to not be stopped, detained or otherwise restricted unless there is probable cause to suspect we are engaged in criminal activity or are a material witness to the same.

    With *very* few exceptions (military installations, certain nuclear facilities, etc.), the public has the right to photograph whatever and whomever they want to… in public spaces. If you (or your building) is viewable from a public space — you may be photographed. In short, if an eyeball can see it from public property, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.

    Of course, that doesn’t apply to photography while *on* private property. As a private property owner, I have every right to tell you I don’t want photos taken while your on my property. If you do take photos, I can tell you to leave, and if you don’t, have you charged with criminal trespass. That still doesn’t give me the right to do anything to you other than tell you to leave. I can’t touch your camera, confiscate film, etc.

    Keep fighting the fight. It irks me to read all the entries from folks who insinuate that you should just bend-over and accept having your 1st amendment rights stepped-on. You shouldn’t. You should make as big a stink as is necessary to ensure overreaching security zealots receive an education in constitutionally protected freedoms.

  9. mkultra says:


    If (as the previous post sort-of suggested) Carlos was actually photographing police graft in action — then huge kudos to him. That’s one defense fund I would be happy to contribute to. Anyone with balls enough to stand up to corruption is a winner in my book.

  10. mkultra says:

    and, for what it’s worth, I’m a senior security engineer for a 40,000+ person company. It’s my job, daily, to balance the civil rights of our employees against the legitimate protections our company is entitled to. These two interests are frequently at odds.

    I, for one in the security profession, *always* err on the side of protecting the individual rights of an employee (or anyone else that pops up on my radar for any reason). I believe that this policy is, overall, in the best interest of the company I work for.

    Not all security people are goons. Some genuinely study the law and respect it deeply.

  11. […] of Privacy Right of Publicity First Amendment Interference with Official Acts National Security Buildings not ordinarily visible to the public Breach of Contract Rules of Court […]

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