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.