It took 15 years but the cops finally succeeded in shutting down PINAC News.
But PINAC had long proven that photography is not a crime which was its original mission.
And in doing so, Photography is Not a Crime as it was originally called became the first site dedicated to exposing police abuse caught on camera, making plenty of cop enemies along the way.
PINAC came to an end on December 28, 2022 after a lengthy battle with Big Brother which began in 2007 after its owner and founder, Carlos Miller, was beaten and arrested by Miami police for photographing them in public.
It evolved into a national movement with citizens from across the country challenging police over their First Amendment right to record in public.
The movement led to the explosion of police abuse videos recorded by citizens on their smartphones, videos that have sent many cops to prison.
The movement also led to pushback from police who spent years arresting PINAC reporters on false charges for recording them in public, only to see the site continue to grow in popularity.
In the end, it was Big Tech that killed PINAC on behalf of police; social media companies responding to cop complaints that articles of police abuse caught on video were making officers fear for their lives because readers would leave angry comments and then want to record the police.
Pioneer in New Media
PINAC was a pioneer in New Media and a leader in citizen journalism, reporting on police abuse years before the corporate media acknowledged the videos.
Preaching transparency over objectivity, PINAC turned journalism into activism to raise awareness about police abuse to the horror of the corporate media which had become very comfortable and complacent with the institutions they were supposed to cover.
But PINAC never strayed from the fundamentals of journalism, remaining real in a world of fake news, earning a “high credibility” rating on the Media Bias/Fact Check website with zero failed fact checks in the last five years.
PINAC’s motto, Little Brother Watching Big Brother, was a testament to its David-vs.-Goliath battles in its earlier years against government agencies over the right to record which went on to inspire today’s First Amendment auditor community on YouTube.
Notable battles from the PINAC team include:
- Miller’s victorious court cases against police agencies in Miami-Dade County who unlawfully arrested him for taking photos several times, including a conviction he had reversed on appeal pro se. The readers played a huge part in these victories through donations for legal fees and by simply sharing the stories to spread the truth the cops were trying to repress.
- The victorious battle against a Jacksonville judge in North Florida led by Jeff Gray aka Honor Your Oath and the late Thomas Covenant aka Epic Old Guy to give PINAC the same right as the corporate media to record inside Duval County courtrooms after the judge claimed PINAC was not legitimate media.
- The victorious battle against Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle in the 11 Circuit Court of Appeals led by James Eric McDonough aka Doc Justice over the right to record a South Florida police chief during a one-on-one meeting in the chief’s office, affirming citizens have a First Amendment right to record police.
- The victorious battle in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals against Texas police departments led by Philip Turner aka The Battousai over the right to record a police station from across the street without identifying himself, affirming citizens have a First Amendment right to record police.
- The victorious battle led by Miller against the Miami-Dade Metrorail over the right to record inside train stations where security guards spent years trying to deny that right.
- The victorious battle against the Fort Lauderdale Police Department in South Florida over the right to photograph a Hollywood movie set from a public sidewalk led by Miller along with attorney Norm Kent, founder of South Florida Gay News, and the South Florida chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, who all partnered to organize a photo protest, leading to the cops reversing their unconstitutional restrictions. Also in attendance was the late Al Crespo, who ran Crespogram News, a Miami blog critical of the local government who passed away August 2022.
- The victorious battle against the Boston Police Department who were threatening to arrest Miller and PINAC reporter Taylor Hardy on felonies because Hardy recorded a phone interview but our readers came through in 24 hours to raise money to retain a top-notch attorney in Boston who killed the charges without them having to fly to Boston from Miami to fight the false charges which is what the cops wanted.
PINAC’s defiant style of journalism made the cops even more defiant in denying our rights and it wasn’t long before the United States Department of Homeland Security placed PINAC on its watch list and began investigating its members.
But the cops soon realized they were fighting a losing battle as technology placed a video camera in the hands of every smartphone owner. Police eventually began using PINAC’s videos in their training sessions to learn how not to act when being recorded in public.
PINAC opened the eyes of many Americans with videos of shocking deaths at the hands of police, including Oscar Grant, Kelly Thomas, Philando Castile, Daniel Shaver, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner and George Floyd just to name a few.
The videos would anger the cops who many times threatened to sue PINAC but not a single lawsuit was ever filed because attorneys would never take their cases.
At its height of popularity, PINAC had a staff of a dozen writers and researchers and more than 100 volunteer correspondents in cities and towns throughout the United States. But it would all come crashing down.
Big Tech turned into Big Brother
Beginning in 2018, Big Tech began silently sanctioning PINAC’s reach on social media, allowing it to reach less than five percent of its total readership, squeezing it of ad revenue under the pretense of “social issues.”
The restrictions came mostly from Facebook where the bulk of our readers were but also YouTube and Twitter. Facebook did not even allow PINAC to promote its t-shirts.
Overnight, PINAC’s articles went from reaching more than a 100,000 readers a day to a daily average of less than 5,000 and never recovered, costing PINAC hundreds of thousands of potential ad dollars over the years and ultimately leading to its demise.
Another setback came in late 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic when the Maven, the company that had been hosting PINAC in a revenue-sharing agreement, cancelled its contract with PINAC after three years, leaving PINAC with no income while having to rebuild the site on WordPress under a new domain, all while being suffocated by the silent sanctions on social media.
PINAC was reduced to a skeleton crew of one person and tried to revive momentum by announcing plans to build a database of bad cops but with no income, no capital and its distribution reduced to less than five percent of its total readers, the plan never materialized.
Plans to do a podcast were shelved until PINAC could remedy the distribution issue because it was pointless to do it otherwise since most readers would not be allowed to listen to it. But that day never came.
The final blow came in 2022 when PINAC’s application for an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan went ignored by the federal government for more than a year even though it fully qualified for the loan.
The loan would have given PINAC the capital to begin building the database of bad cops since it was impossible to raise money due to the social media restrictions. It appears the SBA purposely ignored PINAC due to the nature of the business.
PINAC spent its last two years on life support, a fragment of its former self, hoping for a helping hand while dying a slow death, eventually succumbing to the social media sanctions sparked by police complaints.
The golden age of the blogosphere
PINAC was born from the streets and jail cells of Miami on April 28, 2007 during the golden age of the blogosphere, a period where anybody with a passion for writing and a computer could launch a blog and reach the world based on the quality of their content instead of the algorithms determined by Big Tech.
The golden age produced blogs with a wide range of topics, including politics, food, history, photography and much more. PINAC was the First Amendment blog but it became controversial from the beginning because most Americans at the time considered it sacrilegious to photograph cops in public against their wishes.
Lasting roughly from 2003 to 2009, the golden age was a fluke in history, the only time where true freedom of the press existed for everybody.
It emerged after the consolidation of Big Media in the late 1990s that enabled a handful of news companies to control the information but before the consolidation of Big Tech in the early 2010s that enabled the handful of social media companies that now control the information
A blog like PINAC would probably never see the light of day if it was launched today.
The Patriot Act
It was also a period when the country was enamored with cops in the wake of 9/11 believing them to be keeping the public safe from terrorists. The 2001 Patriot Act which was welcomed by most Americans gave cops unprecedented authority to pry into our personal lives.
And it was a time when digital cameras became better and more affordable leading many Americans to turn to photography as a hobby.
That resulted in many clashes between photographers and cops who would tell them that photographing police, buildings, bridges and trains was illegal. And most photographers, unaware that photography was protected by the First Amendment, would apologize and comply.
Until that night on February 21, 2007 when Miller refused to comply and was beaten and arrested as a result. Miller launched the blog to proclaim his innocence but soon discovered his arrest for photography was hardly an isolated incident.
He began reporting on other arrests from across the country because the corporate media was mostly ignoring the stories. But the stories soon became impossible to ignore. And it soon became evident that the cop narrative of a “few bad apples” to explain police abuse was a lie.
Criticized at first for being too combative, PINAC ended up winning several awards, including from the National Press Photography Association as well as from the American Civil Liberties Union.
While most cops today know better than to claim recording them in public is illegal, police have resorted to other tactics to violate citizens’ First Amendment rights, including using social media companies to do the dirty work for them.
As the Intercept reported in October, the Department of Homeland Security has been working closely with Big Tech for several years to remove or restrict articles it refers to as “disinformation” which is information not approved by the government. It’s been happening to PINAC for years but now DHS plans to expand on the program, according to leaked documents obtained by the Intercept.
While there are many Constitutional concerns with this type of enforcement, most Americans do not appear very concerned that the government is deciding what they are allowed to read on the internet, just as most Americans were not very concerned about not being allowed to take photos of police in public in the years following 9/11.
So maybe somebody, perhaps the media, should step up for the fight.
PINAC is survived by its founder and owner, Carlos Miller, a traumatic brain injury survivor who plans to launch a podcast interviewing other TBI survivors in order to raise awareness over the issue. In lieu of flowers, donations are being requested to help during this tragic transition in life and to keep the site online for archival purposes or to simply show gratitude for the work PINAC has done over the years.