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As of Sept. 24, citizens of Arizona will no longer be allowed to take close-range recordings of police under a new bill signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey on Wednesday.
According to the law, “It is unlawful for a person to knowingly make a video recording of law enforcement activity if the person making the video recording is within eight feet of where the person knows or reasonably should know that law enforcement activity is occurring.”
The new Arizona law will take effect nearly a year after Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed into law a similar bill, which makes it illegal to post personally identifiable information, such as videos or photos, of police online “with threatening intent.” Yet, in an interview with The Black Wall Street Times last year, the Oklahoma lawmaker who drafted the bill wasn’t able to define threatening intent or how the law would be enforced.
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House Bill 2319, sponsored by state Rep. John Kavanagh, makes it illegal for anyone within 8 feet of law enforcement activity to record police. Violators could face a misdemeanor, but only after being verbally warned and continuing to record anyway.
Exceptions are made for people at the center of an interaction with police, anyone standing in an enclosed structure on private property where police activity was occurring and occupants of a vehicle stopped by police as long as recording in those instances didn’t interfere with police actions.
Kavanagh wrote in an op-ed HB 2319 was meant to protect officers from potential harm or distraction outside of the incident they were already involved in. He initially introduced the bill with a 15-foot restriction which was later amended.
Multiple news organizations, including Gannett, the company that owns The Arizona Republic and USA TODAY, also signed letters from the National Press Photographers Association opposing the bill. Critics also say the law is unconstitutional and infringes on First Amendment rights.
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Without video shot within 8 feet of George Floyd’s murder, the nonchalant knee and disposition of Derek Chauvin on the back of Floyd’s neck may have never been truly known to onlookers present and those who would later watch on TV, cell phones and most importantly, courtrooms.
By limiting the distance in which witnesses can record officers it removes a layer of information that can be gathered while also heightening police aggression towards those nearby.
Stemming the tide of viral videos is something the police recognize and actively have tried avoiding, however, their misconduct has remained pervasive in the age of social media and cell phones like never before.
While the law may state 8 feet, if the last two years have taught us anything about social distancing, it’s that it doesn’t work. Will this be left to their judgment or will tape measurers be provided to officers to accurately set an 8 foot perimeter? If so, it’s only a matter of time before a cop “accidentally‘ mistakes a tape measurer for their handgun and murder onlookers present at a crime scene.
While giving them measuring tape is unlikely, the police legislating distance on the spot without any physical unit of measurement under a flimsy law greatly increases the potential for additional arrests or worse by an increasingly empowered police force.
The Black Wall Street Times reached out to the office of Governor Ducey for comment, however, none was made available.