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Wednesday,February,09,2005

Attack of the SF Muni Fare Inspectors

SF (San Francisco) Muni Fare Inspectors attempt to enforce nonexistent ban on photography

Last Saturday, Sheila and I were out and about. We did some shopping downtown and then entered Montgomery Station. We were gonna hop on Muni and head out to Marcellos in the Castro for a slice of pizza.

While we were on the platform waiting for our train I figured I’d grab a few photos of the crowds. There has been talk of a fare increase and you never know when some current Muni photos might sell.  Check out one of the images that I took, and tell me if you think this presents a security threat. And they weren’t even good photos!

As soon as I snapped the first shot, a SF Muni Fare Inspector admonished me to stop taking photos. I won’t go into detail here as you can read my ROUGH DRAFT letters of protest to San Francisco Municipal Railway and San Francisco Police Department (both in PDF format). These letters are a good account of what happened. However, the short version is that The Fare Inspectors tried to prevent me from taking photos under threat of citation. When I refused to stop, they tried to cite me but couldn’t find any relevant code, regulation or law to cite me. Enlisting the aid of the SFPD and BART Police officers also yielded now results. No citation was issued.

I’m grateful to be a member of the National Press Photographers Assocation and subscribe to their email list. Because this topic and others experience with it had been discussed on the list I knew what my rights were, and how to handle myself, I was able to challenge this abuse of authority and not succumb to the intimidation of these well intentioned by absolutely WRONG civil servants.

Sheila, my lovely bride and dream girl, was a real trooper and a pillar of support. She understands the issues at work, and what is at stake in this situation. She stood by me physically and morally throughout the entire episode. Without her support I couldn’t have taken the stand that I did. Also, she’s helped out a lot with getting the letters ready to send. Thank you Sheila; I love you very much!

The anger that I felt regarding this incident has morphed into sadness. I’m sad that the Fare Inspectors are so inept and misguided as to try to enforce nonexistent laws. Also it’s sad that they think that preventing a photographer from shooting in the Muni Station will have ANY impact at all on security. On a deeper level it causes me great concern that these Fare Inspectors (and the SFPD Officers) balanced my rights and freedom as a US Citizen and a photojournalist against the negligible security gains afforded by preventing my photography, and my rights lost. Come on people if you’re going to take my rights away, at least get some benefit from abrogating my rights!

It saddens me that a professional Police Officer, sworn to uphold the law and protect the citizens of his city, was willing to twist and pervert the law in order the threaten me with arrest for exercising my rights. I can’t begin to tell you how shocked I was when Officer Ryan threatened me with arrest for Trespassing if I continued to take photographs! This is America, He is a law enforcement officer, what the hell was he thinking?!?!

I can’t help but feel that the terrorists have won. Have we again reached a point in our history where fear is so strong that it overrides justice and common sense? Have we arrived at a place where the phrase “for security reasons” trumps logic? Where it trumps justice, fairness and liberty? Are we so paranoid that we’re willing to give up our basic freedoms in pursuit of elusive security? I’m all for doing what we can to make our country safer. I live in San Francisco, a place that is likely on the terrorist todo list. Of course I want security. But if we sacrifice our freedoms that were gained by the blood of patriots, we will cease to be beacon of freedom that we should be. Bottom line, as long as we are a free and open society, we can not plug every security hole—but, even if we gave up our freedom and liberty, we still wouldn’t achieve security!

Ben Franklin said it best, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

NOTE: I’ll be editing this blog entry as well as the draft letters to the SF Muni and SFPD to correct grammar, typos, etc… The basic content will remain the same.

Related Entries:

Photography is NOT a Crime!

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Posted by stevem on 02/09 at 01:53,AM • Category: News
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