Monday, June 01, 2009

Hassling Photographers

Long time readers of this blog will recall I have had my problems being hassled by cops and security guards for taking photos in public. Here's the story of Nick Cooper, who decided to fight it. Nick Cooper went to Rice at the same time as I did, where he led a band with the ultimate Houston name, Sprawl. His current band is the Free Radicals, and Cooper is himself a fairly outspoken leftwing activist. On May 6, 2007, Nick saw police moving some homeless people from under the Pierce Elevated downtown.
Photo by Nick Cooper, May 6, 2007

Nick saw this as a case of cops hassling sleeping homeless folks and making them move elsewhere. He wanted to document it. Ever since Rodney King (and probably long before), cops have hated having their work photographed or filmed. But remember, there is nothing wrong or illegal about what Nick did.

The police decided to try to intimidate him. They stopped him and ran his tags. Finding nothing, they let him go, but then as he was driving away, they indicated for him to turn right and pull over. Cooper followed their instructions, only to find himself ticketed for going the wrong way down a one-way street!

His contention was that he was essentially entrapped--the police instructed to do something illegal, then punished him for obeying! Pretty slimy tactic!

It was a minor offense, but Nick decided to fight it in court. But the petty bureaucratic intimidation didn't stop there.

Nick pled not guilty and appeared in Houston Municipal Court Number 11 at 1400 Lubbock on October 15, 2007, for trial at 8:00 am and had to stay until after 1:30 pm before the Judge said no trial today and Nick’s trial was reset to April 14th, 2008. Nick again appeared in Court on April 14th, 2008, for the reset trial date at 8:00 am and had to stay until after 1:30 before the Judge said Nick’s trial was again reset to October 13, 2008.

Nick again appeared for his trial at the October 13, 2008, trial setting at 8:00 am. This time Nick explained to the Judge that the burden was too high to get a trial on his ticket. The plea fell on deaf ears and the Judge again reset the trial for June 1, 2009, at 8:00 am. Now Nick’s main witness, a homeless fellow named Ken, no longer is reachable by the cellular number that Ken gave Nick.

Civil rights lawyer Randall Kallinen said, “It is violation of defendants’ right to trial when they must spend so many days in court on a traffic ticket just to get to trial. How can defendants and witnesses be expected to show up for trial on so many occasions only to be reset for another day ? Presiding Judge Mejia needs to start thinking of Houston citizens’ rights and not city revenue.”

Nick is not alone and Court 11 is not the worst. Court Number 6 has six defendants on trial docket for June 1, 2009, who are each charged with a single traffic violation and have appeared at trial settings for longer than Nick--four since 2006.

Doing the math means hundreds of defendants trial rights are violated each year by Court 6 alone. (Houston Independent Media Center)

Nick finally got his day in court today, and was found guilty. He paid a $100 fine. The police and the justice system figured they could intimidate him by making it too expensive to stand up for his rights. But in the end, I'd say Nick cost them a lot more time and money than they cost him. Way to stand up for photographers' rights, Nick!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This cop I know once told me, "You might beat the rap but you can't beat the ride."

Meaning, in one way, they can do whatever they like. The penalty will be the humongous hassle. Which you'll go through even if you are found not guilty. Finally.


6:22 AM  
Blogger  Robert Boyd said...

True, and it continues even after you are found "guilty," as the spate of exonerations in Texas and elsewhere reveal. But in small ways the tide is turning. The mere fact that Nick was willing to force them to take him to court shows that some citizens are willing fight back against injustice.

Police are a totally necessary part of society, and obeying the law is something folks should do. But in Houston and Harris County we have had to put up with a high-handed justice system that allows cops to get away with this kind of petty BS (and much worse) for a long time. I think the removal of Rosenthal and the election of Pat Lykos to the job is a positive change.

But top-down change like that has to be met from the bottom with people like Nick who are willing to stand up for their rights despite the bureaucratic hassles.

6:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...and obeying the law is something folks should do."

Commendable, Boyd. Very. Personally, I ignore the hell out of any law I find inconvenient. I think my code of conduct is adequate, no, superior, to the vast majority of the laws the gang of incompetent (if not actively evil) law-makers demand that we obey.

For example, look at the one the Texas lege slipped in that allows rebuilding of beachfront mansions on Bolivar. That more than one member of the lege lost vacation homes there to Ike of course has nothing whatsoever to do with it. Nothing wrong with that, except doing it will deprive the public, you and I, access to the beach.

There are so many laws that most of us don't even realize when we are breaking them.

Hell, you can walk down the street and break a law at every intersection without even noticing it.


8:16 AM  
Blogger  Robert Boyd said...

Yeah I heard about that beach law. It looks like it will be vetoed (I hope so). (When I lived in Connecticut, there were hardly any public beaches--the longest public beach in the state was in my town, West Haven, and it was only about two miles long. So when I would tell my friends that in the heart of perhaps the most property-rights friendly state in the union, Texas, that ALL ocean beaches were public property, they were incredulous.)

Sure, I agree--obeying the law is not always possible or practical or even right. Some laws are opaque, some selectively enforced, some just plain stupid, some destructive and deserving of fighting against.

But when I say we should obey the laws, I mean there should be enough respect for the rule of law that we don't end up with a totally corrupt 3rd world-style society, where accomplishing anything (legal or not) involves paying some asshole a bribe.

To put it another way, I think it was basically corrupt that the police evidently entrapped Nick Cooper. I would feel worse if Nick had gotten out of the ticket by bribing the cop. Two acts of corruption would be, in my opinion, worse than one.

8:48 AM  

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