Wait, Wut #5 Power to the Police

4 June 2020

Police clear the streets around the White House, tear-gassing protestors and beating them, so the President can walk to a church and hold up a bible. The photo op is the president’s daughter’s idea. The Defense Secretary who goes along on the walk claims that he didn’t know where they were going. Just out for a stroll on a nice day during a large demonstration protesting police brutality.

Wait, wut?

I took a break from writing. Something about that story didn’t ring true. I was planning to pitch it to development executives in just one day. I didn’t want them to shoot it down as implausible and I didn’t have much time to fix it.

I checked the ACLU website. An extremist organization known for protecting freedom of speech, I figured they’d post something dramatic and extreme. Sure enough. They had a whole list of crazy shit right out of the Constitution.

  1. The right to protest is a fundamental human right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment.

Really? Seems out of touch. People are more into the Second Amendment now. The development executives I was pitching hadn’t read the Constitution since elementary school. Nothing there to help me sell the story.

  1. If you get stopped, ask if you are free to go. If the police say yes, calmly walk away.

Can’t use that. Who would turn their back on a police officer during a protest? You’d have to be nuts.

  1. You have the right to record. The right to protest includes the right to record, including recording police doing their jobs.

  2. The police can order people to stop interfering with legitimate police operations, but video recording from a safe distance is not interfering.

Can that be true? I’ve seen video evidence with my own eyes from a million cellphones and on live TV. Police beating reporters, pushing camera people to the ground, and firing on them with rubber bullets at close range.

  1. If you get stopped, police cannot take or confiscate any videos or photos without a warrant.

When I worked in the field, to keep police from taking our tapes we pretended to fumble them and gave them a blank one instead. Come on, there can’t be a law against seizing tapes, otherwise they wouldn’t do it. They’re law enforcement, right?

  1. If you are videotaping, keep in mind in some states, the audio is treated differently than the images. But images and video images are always fully protected by the First Amendment.

Yadda, yadda, lawyer stuff. Tell it to an enraged cop poking a baton in your face.

  1. The police’s main job in a protest is to protect your right to protest and to de-escalate any threat of violence.

Wait, wut? Can that possibly be true? The right to freely assemble without getting smacked around? Police are there to de-escalate? Suddenly I felt tired. There were a few more points in the ACLUs list but I clicked off to another tab. The Constitution wasn’t helping me write this scene. I know there are good cops out there and it’s police culture that is messed up. Police departments have become militarized. What about a story where a mayor takes away their military hardware?

A little more research, and I found that the Mayor of LA was ordering police to stop using rubber bullets during demonstrations. Maybe I was writing the wrong pitch? I could present one about a progressive mayor trying to go all progressive on the police department. Or a lawyer suing the police to be sure that violent officers were taken off the force and couldn’t get jobs in neighboring states.

They trashed those ideas. The development people wanted me to write up something else. It was going to be called Blue Privilege, about police rights. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, was backing the production. He liked the branding tie-in, you know, blue and blue.

(c) Lee Schneider 2023. Take care of each other. Subscribe.