NYPD Officer Beats Videographer, Should Photographers Be Wary?

Tempers flared, rights were infringed, and violence ensued. Videographer Shawn Thomas exchanged heated words with NYPD Officer Efrain Rojas resulting in a unwarranted beatdown and arrest. The 10 minute clip depicts how quickly the controversy escalated over a simple camera phone, which apparently cost Thomas a bloodied lip from the police officer.

Clearly, there is a lot of content to unpack from this clip. But among other things, what are the implications for street photographers. Officer Rojas acted rashly and unprofessionally. Obviously, debates can emerge from a variety of circles about what went wrong, but let’s consider what this means for those of us wielding cameras.

Watch the clip and see the extent to which Thomas knows his rights. Similarly, look at his Youtube channel and see all his content that he has posted; he isn't arbitrarily antagonizing police officers for some reaction he can capture on tape. He is shooting with a purpose and I believe that is what the NYPD strongly dislikes.

Consider the level of tourism that floods NYC streets on a daily basis. Collectively, those tourists have a purpose or aim in their photography, yet no one feels strongly enough to hit them. Simply put, Thomas is capturing content that the NYPD does not want to be shared. Why doesn't the NYPD want that type of publicity? Well, it’s certainly portraying the underbelly of the department’s management, policy, and above all else, abuse of authority.

I presume that many citizens are surprised to what lengths the NYPD will go in order to subdue the revealment of those intra-organizational issues. But from a photographer’s standpoint, if anything is worth noting, it’s the power of an image that one can create. Photographing with a purpose has its consequences. It’s just appalling to see how negative those can be, particularly in the Land of the Free.

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pigs will be pigs.

EVERYONE should be "wary"...

This is what happens when you shoot video in portrait mode.


Why is this guy recording this?

Did you not read the article above?

He doesn't need a reason

Your opinion.

Not an opinion. A truth. You can record anything in public. Working decent sheeple follow the laws blindly. Smart people challenge the laws they're given when they don't agree with them. Arbitrary laws are the worst.

This is America. You have the Freedom to record anywhere you want that is public. End of Story.

NYC subway is not public land. It is private property, so he actually doesn't have the right to film it.

NYC transit has upheld the right of the public to photograph and film for non commercial use, the exception would be using a tripod, then commercial and non commercial alike need permission. The NYPD patrol guide is crystal clear as well when it comes to police being recorded, photographed or filmed. A police officer in the bronx was recently indicted by a grand jury for a similar occurrence, and is now facing trial. The basic bill of rights applies here. It is not negotiable.

Graham Marley's picture

The question is this: Would you rather live in a country where it is legal to photograph authority figures without censor, and thus inspires a few knuckleheads* to exploit that right for kicks, or live in a country where public monitoring of law enforcement is illegal, and thus removing a vital protection against possible corruption?

*this guy wasn't being a knucklehead, he saw something that interested him and he took pictures. That's why people take pictures.

So let's see: some guy in the NYC subway is recording video of "what exactly"? and then he is antagonizing a COP & cursing? What is his IQ? He deserves what he gets! Sorry. Why is he recording the other cop exactly? This is lack of common sense.

David Arthur's picture

It doesn't matter why he was recording it. He was standing a considerable distance away and not disturbing the first officer. The second officer was standing in his face, and that would make anyone angry. He tried to step away from the officer and the officer stayed close to him. The officer also never warned him that he was going to be arrest or told him to put his hands behind his back. Sounds like a cop without common sense.

Ok, look, I can't find 1 single reason for him to record the other cop watching that bum....I would never, ever take out my camera and start shooting someone I don't know in the streets, and them not stop if I am asked to stop. That is the lack of common sense and frankly respect for another human being. (I am not pro street photography just we're clear), but regardless of my personal opinion, I still can't find one good reason for this guy to be recording the other cop....none what so ever, so as far as I am concerned all he did was to provoke that other cop...this could have been someone's father that this guy was recording; if someone starts recording my kids, my husband and I will both ask them to stop, and if they continue we might call the cops ourselves! I see zero reason for him to record what was going on.

Alexandra's Corner, You are missing the point! It does not matter the reason you are recording, but that fact that you are allowed to record public. It is awful that you compare this recording to photographing Children. The police are public figures and should be recorded.

I disagree; I think this was provoked, and the guy was literally looking for trouble. Why was he recording the other cop?

He is recording because he believe the nypd is corrupt and he is trying to capture it on film. this is am example of blatant abuse of power. Public figure should and can be videotaped. It is essential to our country survival the government remain transparent and this is obviously a form of censorship that we should not support.

We will agree to disagree on this one.

Graham Marley's picture

Something is deemed a "right" because it is so important that it must be protected even if it can be exploited for non-noble reasons. For the sake of argument, the guy in the video could have good or bad intentions, it just doesn't matter: Some police do bad things, and the presence of cameras acts as a deterrent, in the best case, and as vital evidence for corrective justice in the worst cases. If a public servant can't handle being in the sometimes unreasonable public eye, they shouldn't work in/for the public, because when you work for the public, there are rules, and the cop didn't follow them.

Is he a reporter? Is he on an new story assignment? Didn't sound like it...

He doesn't have to be a reporter. That doesn't matter. All that matters is it's a public place, and anyone - everyone - has the right to take pictures of people in a public place, as long as you don't touch them or make them fear for their safety. No cop has the right to feel "abused" or "disrespected" by such lawful activity. And the reason we have these rights is what makes us different from Putin's Russia or the Ayatolla's Iran.

Wait a minute..."no cop has the right to feel abused or disrespected"?? So, they shouldn't be treated with respect because they are not US citizens? I am sorry, but I don't condone the behavior and language used by the guy with the camera; he was rude, insulting, and had no reason to be either...the cop was doing his job. Why should anyone sit in a subway, assuming at night considering the foot traffic, and record stuff that cops do? Other than provoke an incident like this!

It's probably a waste of time to share this info with you, but others may benefit from it.

First: I asked nicely first, even saying "please", watch the video again.

Second: I was being kind by cursing him, because of

Third: I had a legal right, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, to self defense. I could have legally taken his life.

You miss the point (repeatedly) completely. IT IS NOT disrespectful to photograph a cop. We give cops a lot of power. They should expect a little, perfectly legal scrutiny. If they're not man enough to deal with that, then they shouldn't be on the force. The disrespect began when the cop came over to intimidate the photographer. And anyone can see in the video that the cop was in his face trying to intimidate. Granted, the photog. exacerbated the situation by being overtly rude. But he did not initiate the problem.

Freelancer don't need a story assignment. He is pursuing the story and he found it. He reported that police officers in NY do not know the law they supposed to enforce.

Totally agree. This guy was looking for trouble. It has nothing to do with his rights. It has everything to do with common sense which this guy has none. And why should Cops be recorded? That sounds like total paranoia.

The bigger question to me is: why SHOULDN'T cops be recorded?? Other types of employees have their actions at work recorded all day...why should cops be any different? NY cops are corrupt for the most part and the citizens of the city are on a mission to continue to expose it.

It's paranoia when it's cops being recorded, but not paranoia when we're ALL being recorded... Good one there, Mr. Hawking

Reason and right should not be confused.

The videographer doesn't have to have a reason. He can do it because it is his legal right as a citizen. Police are there to protect the legal rights of its citizens by enforcing the laws... this officer did the exact opposite.