Student Photographer's Arrest: Snapshot of Systemic Police Abuse
I don’t know Temple University photojournalism major Ian Van Kuyk, despite his enrollment in Temple’s Journalism Department, where I teach.
I do know that dynamics embedded in the recent arrest of Van Kuyk by Philadelphia police--an arrest now generating news coverage nationwide--provide yet another snapshot of the systemic abuses I’ve reported and researched during three decades spent documenting the lawlessness endemic among law enforcers.
Philadelphia police roughed-up and arrested Van Kuyk for his photographing a police traffic stop taking place in front of his apartment. The arrest of Van Kuyk violated Philadelphia Police Department directives permitting such photographing as well as court rulings and constitutional rights.
Police harassing citizens lawfully documenting police activities taking place in public is a “widespread and continuing” problem according to the ACLU.
“The right of citizens to record the police is a critical check and balance,” an ACLU analyst noted during a September 2011 speech where he referenced six incidents in five cities of police arresting citizen photographers during just the spring of last year.
Yes, police attacking civilians for lawfully photographing public spaces, police routinely employing unlawful excessive force and prosecutors too frequently turning a blind eye to such police misconduct are all nationwide problems.
Systemic abuses by police and the prosecutors that condone such misconduct corrode public confidence in the justice system and cost taxpayers millions of dollars spent on settling lawsuits alleging illegalities by police.
Historically, abuses by police and particularly those by prosecutors receive short-shrift from most elected officials.
Just a few days before the alleged March 14, 2012 abuse of Van Kuyk, an artist filed a federal lawsuit against a Philadelphia policeman for roughing her up when arresting her less than two miles from the Van Kuyk incident. When arrested that artist was lawfully creating an outdoor artwork.
In January 2012, the City of Philadelphia settled another lawsuit filed against the same artist-arresting policeman, with the City agreeing to pay a woman $30,000. She alleged that the officer had “violently manhandled” her – breaking her nose and spraining her wrist during a sidewalk encounter.
Abundant evidence now implicates a police-prosecutor abuse angle in the Florida fatal shooting of teen Trayvon Martin by 28-year-old George Zimmerman.
The evidence is clear that Sanford, FL police officials acted in incomprehensible variance with established procedures in their handling of that fatal incident, seemingly proceeding in ways calculated to support Zimmerman’s self-defense claim.