Just over a mile from where the U.S. Constitution if permanently displayed in Washington DC, photographers have been routinely harassed and threatened with arrest for daring to snap a photo inside one of the most historical and picturesque train stations in the United States.
The situation got so bad that even a TV news crew reporting about the harassment was told they were not allowed to film inside Union Station, which is only three subway stops from the National Archives Building, where the original copy of the U.S. Constitution is displayed (as well as the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights).
On Tuesday, U.S. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) held a hearing to clarify the photo policy at Union Station. Norton was incensed that such a national landmark and hub for public transportation would be treated as private property.
The companies that operate Union Station assured Norton they would begin drafting and enforcing new policies that would allow photography inside the train station. One executive even said he was “embarrassed” about the lack of policy, according to the Washington Post.
Norton summoned officials to the hearing from Union Station Redevelopment Corp., the nonprofit organization that leases the federally owned building; Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., which subleases the property; and Jones Lang LaSalle Retail, which manages the building.
“Basically I’m just embarrassed that we don’t have a standard policy,” said David S. Ball, president of Union Station Redevelopment Corp. “There are over 5,000 people who work at the station in the course of a business day, and you may get many different answers on a given issue.”
Ball said he would take steps to make it clear that photography is allowed. As a follow-up, Norton asked that Union Station management present an outline of photography policies within 30 days and enforce any new policies uniformly throughout the station within 60 days.
“All of this goes back to the management,” Norton said. “People do what you tell them to do.”
Also testifying at the hearing was DC photographer Erin McCann, who has been documenting the Union Station First Amendment violations on her blog, “I am Not a Criminal”.
McCann told Norton that she has continually called Union Station management to find out the exact policy on photographers, according to Joel Lawson, a photographer and blogger who attended the hearing.
“Often, my calls and e-mails have resulted in being given conflicting information, sometimes minutes apart by people in the same office,” McCann testified,
“Reported first amendment violations and denial of access by the press and public as well as inconsistent messages by Union Station personnel are especially troubling. In June, a photographer was detained by Union Station security personnel for taking non-commercial photographs.
A real time display of the confusion about access came when Channel 5, a major television outlet here was shut down by security personnel while interviewing the chief spokesperson for Amtrak, who was explaining that photography was allowed.
Although management officials asserted that a ban on photography was not the policy, Channel 5, National Public Radio, tourists and a host of amateur photographers have been shut down or given inconsistent direction on photography at Union Station.
The evidence of confusion and arbitrary actions by security personnel reflects the continuing absence of clarity concerning public access. Union Station appears to be a case study for the necessity of my bill, H.R. 3519, the Open Society with Security Act, to assure public safety while maintaining the highest level of free and open access to the public.”