Activism Photographers: Become Legal Observers

If you are a photographer (and/or videographer) who covers activism (like I did for jury independence outreach in the spring of 2010), consider becoming a legal observer. The thought never occurred to me (an anonymous friend just suggested it to me) but could have saved me from the vindictiveness of the marshals.

The idea is very simple. You’re planning to cover some kind of activism event. You’re not actually going to engage in the activism. You just want to record it. You’re the photographer. Hook up with a lawyer or the ACLU. Let them know what you’re planning to do. Let them know you do not plan to take part in the activism. You just want to film. You want to be a witness.


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The lawyer, firm or organization may have an interest in getting new clients or just seeing that people are able to exercise their rights without being framed.

Now, get a hat and shirt that says “legal observer” or  something related. Or just buy an ACLU shirt and hat.

If the police harass you, make it clear in a non-confrontational manner that you are a legal observer.

Another tactic is to simply call your local ACLU or law school and ask them to send out legal observers. After the marshals arrested me in Allentown, the Philadelphia ACLU offered to send them out for any future Philadelphia-area events.

If you decide to try this out, let me know.

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