Target: Texas State Representative Jason Villalba
Goal: Don’t take away citizens’ right to photograph and videotape police.
Texans will soon face criminal charges for recording video of police misconduct, if legislation introduced by State Representative Jason Villalba becomes law. This would strike a major blow to police accountability and oversight. Demand that Representative Villalba abandon his misguided proposal at once.
Representative Villalba’s legislation specifically makes it a misdemeanor to photograph or videotape police officers “performing a duty or exercising authority” from any distance less than 25 feet. Members of specific kinds of “old media” would still be able to record police officers from a closer distance, but only if it was determined to have been done in the vague “course and scope of the person’s employment.”
Citizen journalists and the ubiquity of smartphones that double as videocameras are becoming more and more vital in the ongoing effort to keep police accountable to the public. Imposing distance restrictions will make it exponentially more difficult to record video and audio with enough detail and clarity to force any kind of responsibility on the part of law enforcement.
Villalba says that his bill is just intended to give officers space to work in, but it infringes on Americans’ First Amendment right to record public officials conducting public duties—a right that has been affirmed time and time again in numerous court cases. Sign the petition below to demand that Representative Villalba rescind his bill from consideration so that it never has the chance to become law.
Dear Representative Villalba,
I am writing you today regard House Bill 2918, the proposal you recently introduced to impose distance restrictions on Texans’ ability to photograph and videotape police officers. This is an unconstitutional and destructive bill that should be abandoned at once.
Americans have a constitutional right to record police officers and other public officials as they go about their duties. That right has been emphasized over and over again in countless court cases. Indeed, recent events surrounding police violence have reaffirmed why that right is so crucial to Americans.
The murder of Michael Brown and the ensuing protests in Ferguson, Missouri were not national news stories for weeks. If it weren’t for civilians recording police action during the militarized response to the protests and sharing that raw footage on Twitter, news outlets might never have given the story a second thought. Citizens need to be able to record police to hold them accountable—it is a vital tool of democracy.
Your bill is nothing but a gag order writ large against all Texans. It’s an attempt to cover for police wrongdoing by preventing citizens from being able to any get clear, detailed footage of it. I demand that you rescind House Bill 2918 from consideration so that Texans never have their rights taken away from them.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Victorgrigas via Wikimedia Commons