"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Free Inquiry’

Police Say They Can Detain Photographers If Their Photographs Have ‘No Apparent Esthetic Value’

In Uncategorized on August 19, 2011 at 1:31 pm

A photograph shot by Sander Roscoe Wolff on June 30 before he was detained by Long Beach Police

Oldspeak:” In a police state, Photography is Terrorism. Thought Police moonlight as art critics. And if in their professional opinion, your work has “No apparent esthetic value” and you are not engaging in “regular tourist behaviour” they can arrest you for the offenses. Yes my pretties, the Police States of America is full-formed and hard at work depriving you of your rights to freedom, movement, assembly, protest, and now apparently to photograph. All in under the guise of “National Security”. This makes complete sense in a society where its government creates 452 new laws criminalizing non-criminal behavior over a 7 year period.  “Freedom is Slavery”

By Greggory Moore @ The Long Beach Post:

Police Chief Jim McDonnell has confirmed that detaining photographers for taking pictures “with no apparent esthetic value” is within Long Beach Police Department  policy.

McDonnell spoke for a follow-up story on a June 30 incident in which Sander Roscoe Wolff, a Long Beach resident and regular contributor to Long Beach Post, was detained by Officer Asif Kahn for taking pictures of a North Long Beach refinery.1

“If an officer sees someone taking pictures of something like a refinery,” says McDonnell, “it is incumbent upon the officer to make contact with the individual.” McDonnell went on to say that whether said contact becomes detainment depends on the circumstances the officer encounters.

McDonnell says that while there is no police training specific to determining whether a photographer’s subject has “apparent esthetic value,” officers make such judgments “based on their overall training and experience” and will generally approach photographers not engaging in “regular tourist behavior.”

This policy apparently falls under the rubric of compiling Suspicious Activity Reports (SAR) as outlined in the Los Angeles Police Department’s Special Order No. 11, a March 2008 statement of the LAPD’s “policy …  to make every effort to accurately and appropriately gather, record and analyze information, of a criminal or non-criminal nature, that could indicate activity or intentions related to either foreign or domestic terrorism.”

Among the non-criminal behaviors “which shall be reported on a SAR” are the usage of binoculars and cameras (presumably when observing a building, although this is not specified), asking about an establishment’s hours of operation, taking pictures or video footage “with no apparent esthetic value,” and taking notes.

Also listed as behaviors to be documented are “Attempts to acquire illegal or illicit biological agent (anthrax, ricin, Eboli, smallpox, etc.),” “In possession, or utilizes, explosives (for illegal purposes),” and “Acquires or attempts to acquire uniforms without a legitimate cause (service personnel, government uniforms, etc.).” Special Order No. 11 does not distinguish between how these behaviors should be handled and how (e.g.) photography should be handled.

McDonnell says that LBPD policy is “on-line” with all instructions contained in Special Order No. 11, “as is everyone else [i.e., other police departments] around the country.”

In response to Long Beach Post’s coverage of the incident, the National Press Photographer’s Association has written to Chief McDonnell expressing concern “about the misplaced beliefs that photography is in and of itself a suspicious activity.”

Deputy City Attorney Gary Anderson says that the legal standard for a police officer’s detaining an individual pivots on whether the officer has “reasonable suspicion of criminal activity”; and that whether taking photographs of a refinery meets that standard “depends on the circumstances the officer is confronted with.” For that information, Anderson says, we must know what is in the officer’s mind.

Officer Kahn did not reply to repeated attempts to contact him in order to determine what was in his mind when he allegedly detained Wolff; and the LBPD Public Information Office referred pertinent questions to Anderson.

According to Anderson, Kahn claims that Wolff complied with Kahn’s request to see his license, and that it was unnecessary for him to compel Wolff to do so — a version of events Wolff flatly contradicts. “I absolutely asked him if showing him my license was necessary,” Wolff says, “which is when he gave me his little spiel about Homeland Security [allowing Kahn to detain Wolff under the circumstances].”2

Anderson reports that Kahn asserts Wolff denied being a reporter, which Wolff says is untrue. “I never denied being a reporter,” Wolff says. “He never asked me about being a reporter. He asked me why I was taking pictures, and I told him that I was an artist.”

Regarding whether Kahn felt Wolff’s behavior gave him “reasonable suspicion of criminal activity,” Anderson initially replied, “I never asked [Kahn] that question.” Agreeing that “we can’t go any further in discussing [whether Kahn had ‘reasonable suspicion of criminal activity’] without knowing what was in the officer’s mind in this specific instance,” Anderson agreed to follow up with Kahn on that matter.

However, when reached 10 days later, Anderson stated, “I’m not going to get into the officer’s subjective state of mind at this point. … That’s attorney-client privilege.”

As to why Anderson failed to cite attorney-client privilege initially, Anderson says only that he has “been thinking about it more”; and, “We have no further comment. Seriously.”

1 After running Wolff’s driver’s license, Kahn left the scene without ordering Wolff to desist.

2 Legally, a police detention has occurred when “a reasonable individual” in that circumstance would be believe he or she is not free to leave

Free Speech Under Siege In The “West”

In Uncategorized on June 27, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Oldspeak:“Democracies stand for free speech; dictatorships suppress it….The censorship of memory, which we once fondly imagined to be the mark of dictatorship, is now a major growth industry in the “free” West. Indeed, official censorship is only the tip of an iceberg of cultural censorship. A public person must be on constant guard against causing offense, whether intentionally or not.” – Robert Skidelsky. How can knowledge, discovery, and intellectual advancement be achieved without free, unfettered inquiry and constant and rigorous questioning of “accepted truths” based in religion, science or cultural memory?  Political correctness cannot ever usurp freedom of speech, to do so opens the door to authoritarianism, totalitarianism, rigidity of thought and society. There should be no such thing as accepted ways of thinking in a free society. The frightening thing is in the supposedly “free” U.S. much of the population self-censors and acts as thought police to those who think outside the politically correct and accepted spheres of thought. Phrases like “Conspiracy Theorist”, “Radical” “Fringe Elements” or ” ‘Your name here’ Extremists” are used to dismiss un-PC thought and speech as not worthy of serious, critical consideration, as they fly in the face of generally “accepted truths”  There are fewer and fewer public spheres one can introduce ideas which challenge people to actually think and consider facts that don’t jive with what they see in corporate media networks and learn from commodified, corporate controlled for-profit education systems. This has a chilling effect on those interested in engaging in political protest movements, dissent, and challenging and questioning the official narrative of history and objective reality. It’s what leads the Department of Justice to think it’s ok to surveil harass and violate the civil liberties of  law abiding citizens who dare dissent. It that that much different than what goes on in China, Iran, or Israel? If people are discouraged or afraid to engage politically in any way that they wish, state-sanctioned or not, democracy dies.”

By Robert Skidelsky @ Project Syndicate:

Recently, at a literary festival in Britain, I found myself on a panel discussing free speech. For liberals, free speech is a key index of freedom. Democracies stand for free speech; dictatorships suppress it.

When we in the West look outward, this remains our view. We condemn governments that silence, imprison, and even kill writers and journalists. Reporters Sans Frontièreskeeps a list: 24 journalists have been killed, and 148 imprisoned, just this year. Part of the promise we see in the “Arab Spring” is the liberation of the media from the dictator’s grasp.

Yet freedom of speech in the West is under strain. Traditionally, British law imposed two main limitations on the “right to free speech.” The first prohibited the use of words or expressions likely to disrupt public order; the second was the law against libel. There are good grounds for both – to preserve the peace, and to protect individuals’ reputations from lies. Most free societies accept such limits as reasonable.

But the law has recently become more restrictive. “Incitement to religious and racial hatred” and “incitement to hatred on the basis of sexual orientation” are now illegal in most European countries, independent of any threat to public order. The law has shifted from proscribing language likely to cause violence to prohibiting language intended to give offense.

A blatant example of this is the law against Holocaust denial. To deny or minimize the Holocaust is a crime in 15 European countries and Israel. It may be argued that the Holocaust was a crime so uniquely abhorrent as to qualify as a special case. But special cases have a habit of multiplying.

France has made it illegal to deny any “internationally recognized crimes against humanity.” Whereas in Muslim countries it is illegal to call the Armenian massacres of 1915-1917 “genocide,” in some Western countries it is illegal to say that they were not. Some East European countries specifically prohibit the denial of communist “genocides.”

The censorship of memory, which we once fondly imagined to be the mark of dictatorship, is now a major growth industry in the “free” West. Indeed, official censorship is only the tip of an iceberg of cultural censorship. A public person must be on constant guard against causing offense, whether intentionally or not.

Breaking the cultural code damages a person’s reputation, and perhaps one’s career. Britain’s Home Secretary Kenneth Clarke recently had to apologize for saying that some rapes were less serious than others, implying the need for legal discrimination. The parade of gaffes and subsequent groveling apologies has become a regular feature of public life.

In his classic essay On Liberty, John Stuart Mill defended free speech on the ground that free inquiry was necessary to advance knowledge. Restrictions on certain areas of historical inquiry are based on the opposite premise: the truth is known, and it is impious to question it. This is absurd; every historian knows that there is no such thing as final historical truth.

It is not the task of history to defend public order or morals, but to establish what happened. Legally protected history ensures that historians will play safe. To be sure, living by Mill’s principle often requires protecting the rights of unsavory characters. David Irving writes mendacious history, but his prosecution and imprisonment in Austria for “Holocaust denial” would have horrified Mill.

By contrast, the pressure for “political correctness” rests on the argument that the truth is unknowable. Statements about the human condition are essentially matters of opinion.  Because a statement of opinion by some individuals is almost certain to offend others, and since such statements make no contribution to the discovery of truth, their degree of offensiveness becomes the sole criterion for judging their admissibility. Hence the taboo on certain words, phrases, and arguments that imply that certain individuals, groups, or practices are superior or inferior, normal or abnormal; hence the search for ever more neutral ways to label social phenomena, thereby draining language of its vigor and interest.

A classic example is the way that “family” has replaced “marriage” in public discourse, with the implication that all “lifestyles” are equally valuable, despite the fact that most people persist in wanting to get married. It has become taboo to describe homosexuality as a “perversion,” though this was precisely the word used in the 1960’s by the radical philosopher Herbert Marcuse (who was praising homosexuality as an expression of dissent). In today’s atmosphere of what Marcuse would call “repressive tolerance,” such language would be considered “stigmatizing.”

The sociological imperative behind the spread of “political correctness” is the fact that we no longer live in patriarchal, hierarchical, mono-cultural societies, which exhibit general, if unreflective, agreement on basic values. The pathetic efforts to inculcate a common sense of “Britishness” or “Dutchness” in multi-cultural societies, however well-intentioned, attest to the breakdown of a common identity.

Public language has thus become the common currency of cultural exchange, and everyone is on notice to mind one’s manners. The result is a multiplication of weasel words that chill political and moral debate, and that create a widening gap between public language and what many ordinary people think.

The defense of free speech is made no easier by the abuses of the popular press. We need free media to expose abuses of power. But investigative journalism becomes discredited when it is suborned to “expose” the private lives of the famous when no issue of public interest is involved. Entertaining gossip has mutated into an assault on privacy, with newspapers claiming that any attempt to keep them out of people’s bedrooms is an assault on free speech.

You know that a doctrine is in trouble when not even those claiming to defend it understand what it means. By that standard, the classic doctrine of free speech is in crisis. We had better sort it out quickly – legally, morally, and culturally – if we are to retain a proper sense of what it means to live in a free society.

Robert Skidelsky, a member of the British House of Lords, is Professor Emeritus of Political Economy at Warwick University.