Police Harassment

Yesterday was spent making my way home for South Carolina. I spent the morning doing some work in the hotel and then headed out to Charleston Airport. As always I had my camera with me, but for the first time going through screening they took my camera out and swabbed it for explosives. Once we got settled into the terminal I started taking some pictures of planes taking off. In particular there is an Air Guard base that uses the same runways and there were even two pairs of fighters taxiing to take off.

Now I have been taking pictures in airports for years and have taken dozens if not hundreds since that fateful day in 2001. This was the first time I was asked to stop. Two policemen came up behind me on either side with a female TSA officer hanging back behind them.

I was told “Sir it is illegal for you to be taking pictures.”

I asked, “Since when?”

“Since 9-11.”

“Is it because of the Air Guard base?”

“No,” he said, “you are not allowed to take pictures anywhere in the airport.”

At this point I had put my camera away and was talking with my colleague about what had just transpired, commenting that I had never heard of such a thing and, in fact, knew that there was no such blanket law.

The policeman then said, “Did you understand what I just said?”

“Yes, English is my native tongue,” is what I wanted to say. Instead I simply replied, “Yes, I have put away my camera. Why?”

“You are still talking about it.”

Now, that floored me. “I am allowed to talk about it all I want.”

“Sir, if you take any more pictures you are going to miss your flight. Do you want to do that?”

And there is the rub. He had told me I couldn’t take pictures in an airport, something that is not true, you simply can’t take pictures in security areas. [mfn]Had he said I couldn’t take pictures of the military planes, I would have apologized immediately and been done with it. But that was not what he said. And that is also not the case, since the planes were common and out on the public airport.[/mfn] When I even talked about whether or not he was actually right he was threatening me with detention, perhaps even arrest. That is harassment, trying to bully me into certain behaviour.

I also never got the sense that he was really concerned with security. If I was not supposed to take and disseminate pictures then why did he not require me to delete the pictures from the camera? Heck, if it was really against the law he could have taken my memory card and perhaps even the camera itself (the main reason why I immediately put the camera away, that and I wanted to get home within 24 hours). My colleague suggested that due to my beard I looked like the “American Taliban” and perhaps they had profiled me. Perhaps. But if they were serious about it they should have taken me aside, frisked me, and questioned me at the security point. None of that happened. Instead some twenty-year-old with a gun bullied me. Somehow I don’t think national security was really at issue.

So here is one of the “illicit” pictures. Nothing you cannot find on many websites around the ‘net.


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