Smile, you’re on Cop Camera

Oct 15, 2003 at 12:00 am

For your edification, we offer this excerpt from a recent letter David Soul, a member of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice, sent to Detroit City Council President Maryann Mahaffey regarding his experience at a Sept. 27 anti-war rally:

“Those of us at the gathering at Woodward Avenue and East Warren Avenue were very disturbed when three African-American men arrived, two of whom were carrying video cameras plainly labeled ‘Detroit Police Department.’ They proceeded to enter the crowd and began videotaping participants. Two of our organizers, including myself, approached them. … They told me that they were videotaping for ‘a documentary.’ They all refused to show police identification or to give even one name. Frankly, we made their work more difficult at that time by holding placards up in front of their cameras until they left. They then attempted to drive by and film the crowd. Later they parked across Woodward and filmed from across the street. …

“We strongly protest this police activity. Many of us remember the infamous Detroit ‘Red Squad’ that kept files on hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters in the ’60s and ’70s. … This latest activity also serves to chill dissent.”

Third Deputy Chief Tara Dunlop confirms that the PeeDee was on scene with tape rolling, but says there was nothing “covert” about what the officers were doing. It was a public event, and the officers have as much right to videotape proceedings as any private citizen, she explains. The reason for doing so, she says, is so that there will be a record should any problems arise. As for any references to the bad ol’ Red Squad days, Dunlop says simply, “This is a different era.”

Mahaffey has a different take. She proposed an ordinance that would prohibit this kind of surveillance. An ordinance, she explains, would give the council some muscle in stopping the snooping.

“Now if they do it, we can only jawbone,” says the council prez, adding, “I am concerned about it, because I just don’t think we should stand idly by while constitutional rights are trashed in front of our eyes.”

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