Protest Pt. 2, or how Drew got detained and searched!
So after the protest I was wandering on down to City Market, to stop by Antar’s ice cream shop and get a cone. As I’m passing the civic center, I noticed that the entire parking lot was filled with police cars. “Hmm,” I thought. “This will make a great picture.” I went over to the gate (blocked off by a low rail) and snapped a picture. Instantly a female riot cop strode up and barked “What are you doing?”
“Just taking a picture,” I responded.
“No pictures. Get out of here.” She pointed.
“Jeez. I thought this was a public sidewalk,” I remarked, and sauntered along my way. I was cutting across the street beside SCAD’s Oglethorpe House (about a hundred yards away) when I heard some shouting behind me. “You! Stop!” Four or five armed riot cops were briskly marching toward me. I stared at them. “What, me?” I said, honestly surprised.
“You. Don’t make me run after you. I’m not doing that. Come over here” said the leader, a middle-aged, mustachioed fellow. I sort of hesitantly made my way over. “Me?” I asked again, just to confirm.
“What were you taking pictures for?” the man asked. The other cops made a sort of circle around me.
“Uh… I don’t know… I’ve just been taking pictures of all of the hoopla,” I said.
“We’re going to have to ask you to come over here for a bit,” the cop said. They led me over to the grassy area in front of the civic center. “Please raise your arms,” they told me.
“Uh… alright. What’s the problem here?” I asked.
“I think you know what the problem is,” the cop said. “Why did you take those pictures? You took them even after you were asked to stop. Then you wouldn’t stop when you were told to.”
“Uh… I only took one picture. When the lady told me to stop, I did, and then I left.”
“Can I take a look through your bag? Keep your arms up! Do you have any weapons in your pockets?” I let him look through my bag (a sketchbook, a cellphone, a pencil case, and a bottle of aspirin.)
“May I please take a look at that camera?” I handed it over, and showed the man how to go through the pictures, mostly out of a fear that they’d accidentally erase them. Actually, I was afraid that they might “accidentally” erase them anyway. The cop seemed especially interested in the photos I’d taken of mounted police, squad cars, and the like.
“I’ve been taking pictures all over,” I told him. “I was down at the march in the park earlier taking pictures of the protestors.”
“Yeah, I know you did. I’ll bet you’ve got lots of friends on the internet that are interested in these pictures. I’ll bet they’ll be real useful in your plans,” playing some kind of “bad cop” routine, I guess.
“I’m not sure what you mean, sir. I just wanted to take some pictures,” I said.
“Sure. Lots of ‘independant news sources’ on the internet will pay some money for pictures like that,” his voice dripping with innuendo.
“I’m not a member of the media. I just wanted to take some pictures of all the excitement.”
“If you wanted pictures, you could get them off of the internet. Lots of pictures at Savannahnews.com.”
“Uh… it’s not quite the same.”
“Can I see some ID?”
So they took my ID information down. Then they told me they were waiting on “an identification team” to come by and check me out. So we stood there in the shade of the Civic Center for twenty minutes. Occasionally one of the cops would ask me a question – seemingly harmless things, but obviously with the intention of trying to slip me up in my “story.” Where I lived. Why I was in Savannah. (I live here, unlike you.) What I did for a living. They even looked through my sketchbook.
The lead, mustachioed cop occasionally made little “voice of authority” comments, interlaced with interogation: “You know, besides 9-11, most other terrorist acts are carried out by domestic agents… Do you ever read any terrorism-related sites on the internet?” “We’ve been waiting for what, twenty minutes? What’s twenty minutes out of your life? What’s your schedule for today? No schedule, I thought so. So you’re not missing anything.” “You think we’re overreacting? You know, it was local police that caught Eric Rudolph, the bomber? We’re going to be checking anybody we can check this week.” Finally, some city-official-looking fellows showed up and asked me a couple more questions. The lead cop showed them a couple pictures on my camera. “He’s been taking pictures. We’ve got a couple of level twos and threes here.” The conferred for a while longer. Finally I was told I was free to go. As I walked away, one of the officials called me back.
“Yes?” I said.
“Why were you taking those pictures?”
“Jeez, I just wanted some pictures of all of this hoopla. I’ve got some friends out of town right now, and I just wanted something to show them when they get back.”
“Alright. It is legal to take pictures. All right? You ARE allowed to take pictures. So if you’re taking pictures and the police stop you, just tell them why you’re taking them. ”
“Thanks.” I finally walked away, half an hour later. If I was allowed to take pictures, why was I stopped, searched, and interrogated for 30 minutes? I was on a public sidewalk! When they asked me to stop, I did.
I guess legally, I could’ve refused to answer most of their questions, and refused to allow the search. But it’s kind of hard to demand your rights when half a dozen armed cops are encircling you and giving you the treatment.