On October 18, a suit was filed against a North County officer for violating the First Amendment. In 2018, a woman named Sarah Townsend was at a Mobil Gas Station talking to a man in a wheelchair when a North County police officer pulled up and began to arrest the man. Seeing no reason for this arrest, Townsend pulled out her phone to video the arrest. This is when things got serious.
Townsend asked the officer why the man was being arrested, assuring him that the man in the wheelchair had not been bothering her. She claimed the officer then walked across the parking lot, took her phone, turned it off, put it in his pocket, and yelled expletives at her. Even though in the end he did return the phone, he returned it with the threat that he would arrest her the next time he saw her.
Not only is this a grossly inappropriate threat where an officer is taking advantage of his position of power, but it also violates the First Amendment pretty clearly. Sarah Townsend had every right to video what was going on, especially if she thought what was happening was not right. She was not interfering with the arrest, she was just simply asking a question. The officer immediately coming over and confiscating her phone shows he had something to hide, and proves that she should have been recording him. Not to mention that he also targeted her, threatening her with an arrest for no reason.
This brings up the greater issue of our rights as citizens to stand up for the wrong we see. As citizens we should be allowed to call out when people in power are doing something wrong, especially when people’s lives are involved. The First Amendment protects this right to call out the people in power, and police officers should not be immune to it, especially because they are employed to be protecting us, not punishing us for crimes we did not commit.
It’s pretty clear that there have been a lot of stories coming out about “dirty” cops who are not as unbiased as they should be. A simple Google search will show you more results than you could imagine. I don’t want to delve too far into that discussion, but it shows the importance of being able to record the wrongdoings of these cops. Without witnesses being able to video what is really happening, it would be the word of the accused versus the word of an officer of the law, and I think we all know who would win that one.
In the distrustful environment we are living in today, it is even harder to trust the people who are supposedly protecting us. We should be allowed to video inappropriate or unlawful behavior from these enforcers of the law, because it holds them accountable for their actions and keeps them honest. It’s scary to think of a world where we’re punished for standing up for our rights, and it’s not a world I want to live in.