ADQ Editorial: Stop Texas HB 2918

In Texas, State Representative Jason Villalba recently introduced aimed at preventing citizens from recording police officers within specified distances unless they are members of the news media. Thankfully, this bill was dropped from consideration during the current legislative session. ADQ originally voiced our concern with the bill in the op-ed by founder Daniel J. Cohen below. We’ve left the article as it originally appeared before the bill was dropped to encourage further discussion about the bill, it’s intent, and potential impacts had it passed.

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Originally, the wording of this legislation called for a ban on all citizen recording; now that language has been changed to place a 15 foot restriction on recording (that is, citizens cannot record within 15 feet), and 25 feet if a firearm is “visible”. Even with the new change, the legislation is problematic, not least of which because of the original intent of the wording, as well as the vague 10 foot extension. A slippery slope argument is only a fallacy if the original intent of the legislation isn’t downslope. Sadly, in this case, it is not.

The current restriction prevents citizens from recording authorities within a strike zone as well as within the areas where officers are potentially most capable of immediate abuse. This area is also one of the most relevant to later dissections of on-scene evidence; when officers are within 15 feet and committing to duties, they are most capable of causing issues for citizens with a biased and incomplete assessment of the facts because it is in that moment that they record the details of the case. Removing the right to record from citizens takes another tool away from Justice when it is most pivotal to have it.

Yet perhaps the most frightening hammer blow of this bill revolves around the wish to craft a classification system that the free market has readily abolished over the last ten years and implement it as law. The media framework has moved online, and that has changed everything for better or worse. One of the ways it has become better is that citizens can openly share news ideas that wouldn’t normally receive coverage yet deserve that coverage. Small blogs with infrequent publishing patterns- all of which would be immediately banned by this bill for either “not publishing enough” or “not having the right license”- would be prevented from gathering information on authorities who- in the scope of our other core rights as Americans, such as free speech- citizens have the utmost freedom to oppose.

Texas police keep people from entering the city of Galveston.

Texas police keep people from entering the city of Galveston during Hurricane Ike.
-By Robert Kaufmann (This image is from the FEMA Photo Library.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In that respect, this law is not only poor in pragmatism and outcome but outright delusional. It seeks to rearrange the media establishment as never before using a magic wand of legislation that couldn’t possibly have its intended effect without curtailing vital freedoms. As an extension, the restriction is classist; only works with various writers and continual production may engage in duties that allow them to better record events and speak their minds. The poor, with their lack of media resources, are cut out of the picture. The easy pop-up blog, with its idealism and hopes but lack of funds, becomes neutered. Social media dissemination, in all of its ability to change the public mindset, is destroyed.

Furthermore, within this portion of the argument, the number in the new copy of the bill is arbitrary. The right to record is about capturing an idea. When a police officer crosses from 15 feet to 14 feet, the citizen is not suddenly less of a journalist. The idea that a person with a license from the FCC is to receive more rights is patently unconstitutional, un-Texan, and un-American. How ironic that a state rep from a party with faithful somewhat known for often countering the media as politically biased would now stand to grant them rights not afforded to the average citizen! How ironic to institutionalize a private interest with legislation in the Lone Star State!

Several specific, germane, inarguable facts that have recently been making rounds in policy discussion groups directly question the intent and outcome of this legislation:

  • A NYC cop recently completely out of line by yelling at length and disrespectfully, at a New York Uber driver in our country only two years, and was only caught thanks to a camera in the backseat;
  • A North Charleston, South Carolina police officer recently shot an unarmed African American male running away from him, then seemingly placed a Taser near the body of the victim;
  • The state’s largest police union- the Law Enforcement Associations of Texas- is against this HB 2918.

ADQ urges you to pick up the phone and call Representative Villalba’s office (512-463-0576) as well as your own state rep and tell them you oppose this legislation such as this. Feel free to use this essay as a list of talking points. Or, if you prefer, email Representative Villalba’s office our quick pre-written letter by clicking here.

All media and citizens alike should stand symbolically against this as a salute to the Fourth Estate’s best face and opposition to the state’s worst behavior.

Thanks,

ADQ

Texas Capitol building picture by Kumar Appaiah (http://www.flickr.com/photos/akumar/4195756025/) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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