Flutterby™! : Brown = Terrorist?

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Brown = Terrorist?

2004-07-15 17:37:07.479301+00 by Shawn 7 comments

Doing my part to spread the word about Ian Spiers.

Ian is a photography student who relates (text only version), via his blog, two incidents of post-9/11 hysteria profiling while he was taking pictures at the Ballard Locks. The Locks are a popular tourist destination and Ian photographically documents all the other people who were taking pictures on the same grounds where he was questioned by a gaggle of Seattle police officers and agents from the Dept. of Homeland Security[Wiki].

Seattle Times article. Seattle PI column.

There is a protest and show of support for Ian being organized (show up at the Locks with your camera) for August 1st (Sunday).

[Props to Boing Boing for the initial word.]

[ related topics: Photography Weblogs Civil Liberties Seattle ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2004-07-15 19:47:36.557285+00 by: Shawn [edit history]

[meta] Strange. It has been a couple of hours now and the front page has not been updated with my edits. [/meta]

#Comment Re: made: 2004-07-16 00:51:36.719649+00 by: Dan Lyke

Wow. Good reading, and it's good to see someone standing up to authority. I'm impressed, at least by his accounts.

On the [meta] factor, yep: I think I'll go check off the '"ON UPDATE" trigger doesn't work' bug right now...

#Comment Re: made: 2004-07-19 14:25:48.198324+00 by: Shawn [edit history]

I passed this info around work as well. Being a college, I mostly got supportive e-mail - thanking me for sharing, "I'll use this with my class", etc. But then I got this amazingly whiny e-mail from one of the campus security staff. This person bemoaned the protesting of police efforts that were just trying to keep us all safe and asked "what should the officers have done?"

I pointed out that it wasn't their efforts that were bring protested, but their behavior. The whole incident should have ended upon discovering Ian was a photography student and seeing the contents of the notebook.

Thinking a bit more about it this weekend, I came up with an even better course of action. It's not something I'd expect Seattle PD to do, but if the Feds are invloved then I think it makes a lot of sense: Why not have one agent grab a camera and tripod, set up next to the subject and strike up a conversation? They could still have undercover observers, would probably get a better read on the person in question (without the agitation created by authoritarian confrontation) and public/social impact would be minimized.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-07-19 22:14:35.6807+00 by: Dan Lyke

Shawn, I've thought about this for a bunch, and I've realized that most of my negative interactions with law enforcement officers have followed the pattern that it's not whether or not what I'm doing is illegal, it's that they don't want anyone discovering the limits of legality.

Walk up to the guy and start asking questions as though you were another tourist photographing the locks? Certainly most efficient and reasonable approach if your goal is to gather information. But nobody really thinks the locks are a target, so the goals are two-fold:

  1. Create a public impression of "doing something" to protect against terrorism.
  2. Intimidate the person who would question that authority so that they don't question the authority again.

If you look at it from that standpoint, then going in aggressively with guns drawn is the right way to proceed, because it creates a public spectacle (and even in the backlash you'll still have those who believe in such actions saying "what would have had them do?", as you did), and it intimidates the person who clearly wasn't doing anything illegal, but who should have been cooped up afraid in his house, because we never know when the terrorists are going to strike.

This is why we have to keep them in check.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-07-19 23:40:53.592465+00 by: Larry Burton

I don't think it has anything to do with any strategy, I think it has to do with ineptitude.

#Comment PhotoPermit.Org made: 2004-07-20 04:08:11.875758+00 by: Kevin Bjorke

Is a site dedicated to the civil rights of photographers -- specifically, the right to make photographs. Check it out, http://www.photopermit.org/

#Comment Re: made: 2004-07-21 16:56:09.64929+00 by: Shawn [edit history]

When I made my last comment, I didn't quite complete my thoughts because I had lost track of the phrasing I'd eventually settled on (a common ailment for me). Personally, I think you're both (Dan & Larry) absolutely correct. I wouldn't subscribe to the belief in an overall strategy by police, but I am certain that the behavior of the officers in question at the moment are following their own personal strategy.

At the conclusion of my musings, I settled on the opinion that for small-minded chest-thumpers like those depicted in Ian's tale it's more about enforcement of rules rather than prevention of harm.

I must say, though, what's beginning to concern me even more are some of the responses I'm seeing. Yesterday an angry student called for the "firing, reprimanding or deportation" of the instructor posted this information to a mailing list for Media students. (The instructor, who is also the list moderator, had forwarded an e-mail I distributed to the college staff.) She was very clear in expressing her belief that college resources and instructors should not be used "to advocate protests against our police, the authority of our government or to advocate civil disobedience" and closed with the castigation that "We are to teach respect for our police."

I guess I am turning out to be as naive as some have accused. I had no idea the fear mongering had taken such strong roots.

But nobody really thinks the locks are a target

Having worked Intelligence for the Army [National Guard], I very much consider the Locks to be a prime target for terrorist actions. That in no way excuses the behavior of our law enforcement officers, however.

going in aggressively with guns drawn

In the interest of stomping out any smoldering rumors that may be ignited, guns were not actually drawn on Mr. Spiers.

However... this debate is also bringing out stories of other run-ins with Homeland Security - including a 50-year-old white man who did find himself looking down gun barrels while filling his propane tank.