On May 1st, 2007, a Wackenhut security guard violated my First Amendment rights by denying me the right to take photos from the platform of a Metromover station in downtown Miami.
I am a photojournalist who was photographing the immigration rally marching through downtown that afternoon. A little after 6 p.m., I climbed to the second level of the Arena/State Plaza Station in order to photograph the marchers below.
I was immediately accosted by a uniformed Wackenhut security guard with the name “Perez” on his name tag and a Puerto Rican flag key chain dangling from his pants pocket. Perez told me that in absolutely no circumstances would I be allowed to take photos from the Metromover station.
When I asked him why, he said “because I said so.”
When I demanded a more legitimate reason, he said it was because his superiors told him not to allow anyone to photograph from the Metromover platform.
So apparently, Mr Perez’s misunderstanding of basic constitutional rights stems from Wackenhut’s upper management, which is not surprising considering this is not the first time I’ve had a Wackenhut security guard forbid me from taking photos in public.
Perhaps before they don a uniform and firearm and interact with the public, Wackenhut security guards should be required to read and sign this document on basic photographers’ rights. Perhaps Wackenhut’s upper management might gain some enlightenment from this document.
In a nutshell, photographers are allowed to photograph anything from a public street, park, sidewalk and even public transportation station. And this means anyone carrying a camera, not just members of the media.
Mr. Perez objected to having his photo taken, telling me, “I did not give you permission to photograph me”. Again, if we are both standing in public, I have every right to photograph him. But in all honesty, I would have never photographed him had he not accosted me.
Now the usual response to the crackdown on photographers’ rights is that “9/11 changed everything”. But it hasn’t changed the First Amendment. At least not yet.
So until it does, I will continue photographing from public structures regardless of what Wackenhut security guards tell me. And I will continue photographing these guards and demanding a legitimate reason for their orders.
And I will continue documenting these instances with name, date, time and photo to show the world that these are not isolated instances, but, in fact, regular abuses of power.
After all, if there is anything sacred in this country, it is the Freedom of Expression, as you can see from the photos below.