On June 23, Charlotte police arrested a felon with an outstanding warrant at an apartment complex. The Charlotte Observer says it was just the kind of incident Kelly O’Neill might chronicle in her crime blog – except this time she became part of the story. Her encounter with police drew the attention of the chief, the city manager, and the American Civil Liberties Union. It has become grist for bloggers across the country who see it as the latest test of First Amendment rights in the digital age.
O’Neill says a police officer threatened to arrest her when she raised her camera to take a photograph of the arrest. Police dispute her account, and Chief Rodney Monroe said the department doesn’t prohibit journalists or citizens from photographing police activity. News reports suggest clashes between camera-wielding citizens and law enforcement officers have soared in recent years. News photographers and citizen journalists argue that photos and videos provide a necessary check on police procedures. “This is a much bigger issue than just a woman in Charlotte threatened with arrest,” says David Ardia, who, until joining the University of North Carolina law school faculty last week, directed the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard. “We’re seeing this all across the country and the facts tend to be pretty similar.”