Yes, Photojournalists Are Allowed To Film You Being Racist

Yes, Photojournalists Are Allowed To Film You Being Racist

As the discourse around Black Lives Matter and police reform grows ever coarser, racism is revealing itself through protests in all small corners of the country. And that means communities unfamiliar with the role of photojournalists are encountering firsthand the consequences of exercising free speech to spew hate in public spaces.

The disconnect was on full display this weekend in Smithtown, New York, a town of about 117,000 that’s more than 95% white. Local activists with the Long Island Peaceful Protest group planned a rally for Saturday, March 6, to protest the town’s handling of “Thin Blue Line” flags on its fire trucks. They had been there for years, but had recently been removed, then put back after residents complained. The demonstrators planned to march from the train station to the nearby firehouse to express their dismay over the town’s use of a flag that has been in recent years co-opted by racists to attack Black Lives Matter protesters. Throughout the week, a “Back the Blue” counterprotest movement was building, and by Saturday, there were more than 100 “Back the Blue” supporters waiting for the 30 or so Long Island Peaceful Protest marchers. 

Predictably, it got ugly. Just take a look at this person, who blocked me, and told me to "Go back to where you came from" as I tried to cover the event with my journalism students:

I have seldom felt fear of physical harm as a photojournalist, but I did fear this person, who was lunging at me with the flag. It turned out my fears were justified, as he later pushed a young black videographer to the ground and fled the scene. I did try to take a picture of him after that happened, and he angrily told me to stop taking pictures of him as he slipped through a fence.

And I got that a lot. As a photojournalist of color, many “Back the Blue” protestors assumed that I was automatically “against” their side. I was there, like my students, to document what happened and let the photos speak for themselves. I think the photo at the top of this post, for instance, says enough. You may even recognize this particular racist from a previous article I wrote on this topic.

A Right To Photograph

The protestors themselves weren’t really saying much when it came to giving me their names, however. Ordinarily, I don’t have trouble getting most people to talk to me for a photo caption. Most with the Long Island Peaceful Protest group did share their identities, and faces, in photos of this protest. However, whenever I pointed my camera at many “Back the Blue” counterprotesters, masks were pulled up, and cries of “No pictures bro,” and “I’m going to shove that camera up your f*cking a*s” followed. One protestor even tracked down my Instagram to leave a comment that I was “doxing” [sic] people in his group:

A commenter accused me of trying to "dox" them while I was engaged in photojournalism.

A commenter accused me of trying to "dox" them while I was engaged in photojournalism.

Funny what @itsyahboyruss considers “respectfully.” Photojournalism isn't doxxing, and it's hard to dox someone when their face is covered by a mask and they refuse to give a name.

Don't Be a Jerk

Whatever the case may be, I often try to follow the “don’t be an a*shole” rule of photography. If someone respectfully asks not to be photographed, I’ll generally move on and shoot someone else. It’s a protest, and there are plenty of other people that don’t mind photographs or at least won’t raise an issue. I may not always get a name out of those people, but at least I’m not getting attacked or threatened.

Supporters of the Long Island Peaceful Protest encountered a large group of "Back the Blue" counter-protestors as the march moved past the Smithtown Fire Department on Saturday, March 6, 2021 to protest “thin blue line” flags on fire department trucks.

Supporters of the Long Island Peaceful Protest encountered a large group of "Back the Blue" counter-protestors as the march moved past the Smithtown Fire Department on Saturday, March 6, 2021 to protest the town’s placement of “thin blue line” flags on its fire trucks.

I don’t have to honor their request. There’s no expectation of privacy in this or any public space, and so, perhaps it’s time to clarify what a photojournalist can and cannot do in this context, and it’s pretty simple:

If you’re on a public street in a public place, anybody with a camera, whether it’s a cell phone or Nikon D6, has the right to photograph you doing whatever it is you’re doing — whether that’s espousing racism or fighting against it.

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242 Comments

Pan daBear's picture

Oh boy here they come...

T Van's picture

The comments on this thread make me concerned for the future of our country. A lot of hate. Very little empathy. Lots of finger pointing at "the other". Not much hope. When did we become a nation of vitriolic haters?

Ken Flanagan's picture

Being a father can be difficult and raising my boy can test me in every way. Then, there are moments like this. We went to the park because he wanted to fly a new kite he got for his birthday. It attracted a lot of attention, like people hadn’t seen a kite before. These kids walked up and asked if they could try it out. Without a second thought, he handed it over and patiently showed them the finer points of how to fly a kite. He worked with them for a while, and then told them he wanted them to keep it. He came back to me with a big smile and told me he gave it to them because “its just joyful watching other people be happy”.

I guess the reason why I decided to share this little story from last week is that I realized that what changes people is love, not protest. I wish people would be more like my son, because even though he has many struggles in his life that he will face forever, he still gave another kid a leg up.

Update, Someone has pointed out that this story may sound insensitive to victims which was not my intent.

Max Pollack's picture

glad you literally want to tell folks who are the victims of systemic racism that they should "go fly a kite."

Ken Flanagan's picture

Literally not my intent, but if thats your take, I guess I am a poor writer. My apologies.

Dave W's picture

Hey ken, I appreciate your sentiments-- but what's jarring for me is the fact that "love" and "protest" are not alternatives. Were we to take the colloquial conception of "love" then that rouses a certain sense of "intent" or "emotion" that imbues something, someone, or some activity. Protest would be a kind of activity-- which is consciously undertaken in response to something. It goes without saying that protests can be ignited by "love" or some concept of morality. Without getting into the weeds, the very intention in a well-coordinated form of activism that aligns with our conceptions of morality, I believe, is to highlight some grave unjust or something inherently broken about the law, its arbiters and system. When we are not directly affected by bad/racist law-- or unjust systems, it becomes very easy to oversimplify.

When motivated by love, human actions truly do have the power to change-- whether that be random acts of kindness, or in protest of something-- and I think that's what you meant from the start-- let me know if I'm reading into it the wrong way.

edited for grammar and slight adjustment in tone

Warwick Cairns's picture

I’ve read Ken’s post carefully and he doesn’t literally tell anyone to go fly a kite. What he does say is that his son has a number of challenges in his life, but he is loving and kind, and love and kindness bring about more change in the world than protest.

T Van's picture

Our country is seriously lacking in love. So much hate, anger and violence out there. What will it take for people to stop hating others who they don't even know and haven't done anything to them to cause that?

Timothy Turner's picture

We need a revival in this country, turning back to GOD.

Pan daBear's picture

Blah blah

Dan Jefferies's picture

The God that votes for Trump? Or the God who commands you to treat others as you wish to be treated?

Timothy Turner's picture

GOD does not cast votes.

Pan daBear's picture

But he does have a Twitter account: https://twitter.com/thegoodgodabove

Dan Jefferies's picture

Dodged the question. Trump's God or mine? We'll wait.

Jerome Brill's picture

I personally let people believe what they want to believe. It generally doesn't affect me. But we've come to a point in history where it appears religion, at least christianity in America, is really about control. It's this false sense that these "values" are what makes people better people. Not all of it is wrong but most of the time I just see hypocrites and god has nothing to do with being a good person. Honestly, most people are hypocrites whether they believe in god or not. Everyone has an idea how things should be until it comes time to walk the walk. That's the struggle everyone faces but most people find their way. The basics are don't lie, cheat, steal, harm people mentally or physically. That's it. The rest is how much you want to actually contribute to society as a whole. I know having a community is good, that's undeniable. Although as a human race we can't keep these so close-knit. This creates pockets of people who just won't change for anyone. Which really makes them look like they only care for themselves even though they would drop everything to help one of their own. They'll also defend their way of living even though the rest of the world is moving forward. Unfortunately the last course of action of defending that seems to be violence. They know a peaceful protest is just not going to change a world. America is trying to move in a direction that gives rights to more people. This means less control for the people that like to control people. Coincedently they think that in itself is control of them. Fortunately they are going to be rules to keep a civil society as things become more equal. That is not unfair.

In the end people need to start with showing love and compassion. Teach that to the younger generation. If you teach control all these problems will continue to persist.

Timothy Turner's picture

Thanks for making my point.

Matt Williams's picture

Sure, we can do that when people start showing love toward people of color. Why should they receive love back so we can "heal" or whatever (that's not what would happen by the way, it would just maintain the racist status quo).

The onus is on the racists to show love. NOT the other way around. Responsibilities are constantly placed on black people to educate people about racism, to extend an olive branch, etc. And that's total bullsh*t.

Ken Flanagan's picture

Maybe you’re right. I didn’t mean to imply it would be anyone’s job, but everyone’s with zero expectations. The “onus” is on everyone. To show love to your enemy is a strength. I don’t expect it from anyone, but I hope everyone has a chance to experience it like I did a long time ago.

Matt Williams's picture

I appreciate your viewpoint and certainly your willingness to understand what I'm saying. You are coming from a good place, that is clear.

The issue is that there has been an expectation on black people basically forever, and to this day, to forgive those who hurt them and move on. And when that constantly happens, the people who do the hurting don't learn, it just continues.

But again, you're coming from a well-intentioned place and I respect that.

Christian Fiore's picture

Pretty racist to think that only non-POC are racist...

Brian Schmittgens's picture

These people love screaming about the 1st Amendment (99% of the time, they can't even tell you what it actually says). Yeah, you have the right to say whatever you want, but that doesn't mean it doesn't come with consequences. Other people have the right to expose you for the vile person you are. Don't want to be outed as a white supremacist? Stop being one in public.

Mike Shwarts's picture

Better yet, stop being one...period.

Brian Schmittgens's picture

Yes, I completely agree that would be ideal. Unfortunately, they'll always be around.

Dave W's picture

surely you jest! Are you implying that there are CONSEQUENCES for my words? This is a travesty!

dale clark's picture

If you do not want your picture taken....don't go to any public happenings. If you are a photographer and you are not physically blocking anyone from participating.or illegally trespassing..snap away. Pretty simple

MC G's picture

Tell that to Antifa..and specially ask Andy Ngo..

Matt Williams's picture

You know that Antifa is not an actual organization, right?

Andy Ngo is insane and instigates things to later cry victim. He's like that stupid gun girl that goes to college campuses with an assault rifle, knowing she'll piss most of the people off, then cries when they run her off campus.

Kash Johnson's picture

Wasim, would you believe that you and Andy Ngo have a lot in common then? He covers antifa protests and receives very similar grief from them. Each of you seem to be putting yourself out there and evidently from your article, taking some level of risk to provide a truer picture of protests...albeit from different sides of the fence.

Matt Williams's picture

Andy Ngo is not a journalist, he's a liar and an instigator who then cries victim.

He's nuts.

Warwick Cairns's picture

This is what the Wall Street Journal said:

“Mr. Ngo, a freelance writer from the area, showed up to cover the protests...while he was recording with his GoPro he was hit in the back of the head, then beaten by several Antifa activists. Footage filmed by an Oregonian reporter shows someone in a black hoodie punching and kicking Mr. Ngo, and others surrounding him and throwing things at him. After escaping the mob, Mr. Ngo went to the hospital and was treated for head injuries including a subarachnoid hemorrhage, or brain bleed. A photo on Twitter shows his bloody face and battered eye.”

I reckon I’d cry victim too if that happened to me

Jeff McCollough's picture

If I was attacked at a protest I'd cry too.

Tony Clark's picture

I suspect that most of those "protesters" are wearing masks to conceal their identities not as a Covid measure.

MC G's picture

Yea like Antifa does LLOOLOLOLOLOL

Pan daBear's picture

Why can’t you dumb fucking trolls stay on point? Focus on the content of the article-the racism of this “back the blue” protester-rather than deflecting to your knee-jerk boogeyman response.

It’s lazy and boring.

Jeff McCollough's picture

He's not wrong though.

Pan daBear's picture

Why didn’t you bring up the terrorists who stormed the capital and murdered a police officer? They were awful people! Not wrong, but also a deflection off topic. You get it? It’s a lazy weak respond.

TiredoftheBS !'s picture

The terrorists there were antifa, and no one murdered a policeman, he died from a stroke.

Pan daBear's picture

Oh you’re not even worth it. Run off now, child.

TiredoftheBS !'s picture

You are a silly fool, your mom should take your IPad away.

El Dooderino's picture

Wrong on BOTH counts...

"Sicknick, 42, a 12-year veteran of the force, died on January 7 after being injured the day before while “physically engaging with protestors” during the insurrection at the Capitol, according to Capitol Police. Three sources close to the department told WUSA9 Sicknick was struck in the head with a fire extinguisher."

Two of the rioters (who were NOT "antifa") have been charged in his death.

TiredoftheBS !'s picture

Sorry fella, that story is a red herring. Debunked, not true, take a minute to read the Washington Post.

Pan daBear's picture

This Lloyd joker isn’t worth it, friend. Most of the asshats on this site are fun to fuck with, but he’s really a lost cause. Anyone who can’t accept reality like this has too many demons and delusions to engage with.

TiredoftheBS !'s picture

You are the fucking idiot, read something other than nursery rhymes. You people are complete fools.

"On Tuesday, The New York Times corrected a Jan. 8 report that originally stated Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick was killed after being struck in the head with a fire extinguisher by a pro-Trump rioter during the violent Jan. 6 demonstration at Capitol Hill, noting “medical experts have said he did not die of blunt force trauma.”

The original report on Sicknick’s death was used last week as evidence of “incitement” in the impeachment trial against former President Donald Trump. The paper corrected the report this week with an update notice that said, “New information has emerged regarding the death of the Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick that questions the initial cause of his death provided by officials close to the Capitol Police.”

In the original story, the Times reported that “Mr. Sicknick, 42, an officer for the Capitol Police, died on Thursday from brain injuries he sustained after Trump loyalists who overtook the complex struck him in the head with a fire extinguisher, according to two law enforcement officials.”

The revised story now reads, “Law enforcement officials initially said Mr. Sicknick was struck with a fire extinguisher, but weeks later, police sources and investigators were at odds over whether he was hit. Medical experts have said he did not die of blunt force trauma, according to one law enforcement official.”

The news outlet’s sources for the original report were people “close” to D.C. law enforcement.

The officer’s death and subsequent New York Times report became part of a second impeachment effort against former President Donald Trump.

"Earlier this month, House impeachment managers cited the false report in their impeachment memo, stating, “The insurrectionists killed a Capitol Police officer by striking him in the head with a fire extinguisher.”

Pan daBear's picture

He’s like the crazy guy on the Subway yelling about Jesus: best to leave him alone!

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