A les­son from the street

A po­lice­man’s un­happy lot is to take crit­i­cism, like the rest of us

The Washington Times Daily - - Editorial -

Post­ing pub­lic in­for­ma­tion isn’t a crime, nor is tak­ing a pho­to­graph of a pub­lic of­fi­cial con­duct­ing busi­ness on a pub­lic street. Nev­er­the­less, Tay­lor Hardy, a jour­nal­ism stu­dent, must ap­pear in court Thurs­day in Bos­ton to ex­plain why he recorded a Bos­ton po­lice sergeant re­act­ing vi­o­lently to his film­ing of cops ap­par­ently en­gaged in the peo­ple’s busi­ness on a pub­lic street.

When the four-minute video, taken on a hot sum­mer day, be­gan at­tract­ing thou­sands of In­ter­net view­ers, Mr. Hardy, like a good stu­dent, called the Bos­ton Po­lice Depart­ment’s of­fi­cial spokesman, An­ge­lene Richard­son, for com­ment. In the in­ter­ests of full dis­clo­sure, he posted their con­ver­sa­tion on YouTube. Mr. Hardy was charged with wire­tap­ping.

Now the story gets even more in­ter­est­ing. Car­los Miller, a blog­ger 1,500 miles away in Mi­ami, saw the video and posted a com­ment on his own web­site. “Maybe we can call or email [Ms.] Richard­son,” wrote Mr. Miller, “to per­suade her to drop the charges against [Mr.] Hardy, con­sid­er­ing she should as­sume all her con­ver­sa­tions with re­porters are on the record un­less oth­er­wise stated.” He posted her of­fice tele­phone num­ber. This ap­pears to be a po­lite and straight­for­ward ex­pres­sion of speech pro­tected by the First Amend­ment, but the Bos­ton po­lice nev­er­the­less charged Mr. Miller with “wit­ness in­tim­i­da­tion,” a felony that car­ries a max­i­mum penalty of 10 years in state prison and a fine of $5,000.

The blog­ger did not in­tim­i­date Ms. Richard­son. She was not told to “avoid court if you know what’s good for you.” Ev­ery­one has a right to call her in her of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity to tell her what he thinks. She doesn’t have to pay at­ten­tion to what any­one tells her, or even to lis­ten.

If the Bos­ton Po­lice Depart­ment is look­ing for in­tim­i­da­tion, it may be on the video that started all this. It shows a plain­clothes po­lice sergeant bump­ing into Mr. Hardy, say­ing, “You touch me again and I will lock you up for as­sault and bat­tery on a po­lice of­fi­cer.”

Pub­lic of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing po­lice of­fi­cers, can­not be al­lowed to use their of­fices to in­su­late them­selves from scru­tiny or crit­i­cism, even harsh crit­i­cism. The law pro­tects the pub­lic from be­ing hurt by the bad guys, even with badges. From this dis­tance, nei­ther Mr. Hardy nor Mr. Miller ap­pears to have done any­thing but bruise an ego or two. The real of­fense ap­pears to be the abuse of the ju­di­cial sys­tem to in­tim­i­date. We hope the court ex­plains this to the mis­be­hav­ing cops, and why they can’t be al­lowed to do that.

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