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Ferguson, Knowing your rights at Towson

21 August 2014 By Jonathan Munshaw, Editor-in-Chief One Comment

When I was sitting down this summer with previous Editor-in-Chief Jeremy Bauer-Wolf to judge Baltimore Student Media’s annual high school journalism awards, a particular story stood out to me.

One high school paper had done a two-page spread for students outlining their rights against the police.

When I saw that, I immediately started to think about how The Towerlight could use this and if it would be worth us doing something similar.

We’ll probably pursue it later this semester or later this year, but I was reminded once again of how important it is to know your rights considering the protests/riots/police incidents in Ferguson, Missouri.

As an American, I’ve obviously been following every development in that story.

But as a journalist, the arrests of two journalists, Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of The Huffington Post, really stood out to me.

And on Aug. 18, three more were arrested: Robert Klemko of Sports Illustrated, Neil Munshi of the Financial Times and Robert Crilly for the Telegraph.

As this is the Towson Survival Guide, I think it’s important for students to know what their rights are while they’re at school.

This isn’t to scare you from going to Towson University Police as a resource, because I’ve never had a bad experience with TUPD and they’ve always been cooperative with any stories we’ve tried to write.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not important for you to know your rights with the police and with any courts you may run in to (although hopefully everyone avoids that).

For many freshmen, this is their first time away from home and completely on their own.

And there’s only so many things you can search on the Internet on the spot.

Your rights aren’t one of them. Just do some quick reading to find out what can and can’t be searched of yours. Find out where you can and can’t be at certain times. Know what you can and can’t be pulled over and ticketed for.

To stick with the journalism examples, I know that when taking photos, it’s my right to take any picture of anything in plain view if I’m in a public space.

This includes any federal or state buildings or police.

A prime example of that right being violated was last year, when a University of Maryland Baltimore County student had his camera wrestled away from him by a Baltimore County police officer while filming an officer making an arrest outside of the Torrent night club on York Road.

Unless you are interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations, any journalist, and anyone with a camera phone (which is everyone) is allowed to film or take pictures of police activity.

In this case, I feel like the UMBC student was completely in the right in filming the arrest.

He was out on the street (a public place) and wasn’t directly interfering with the police’s activities.

From the American Civil Liberties Union’s website: “Police officers may not confiscate or demand to view your digital photographs or video without a warrant. The Supreme Court has ruled that police may not search your cell phone when they arrest you, unless they get a warrant. …Police may not delete your photographs or video under any circumstances.”

As we’re finding out in Ferguson, not all rights have clear-cut answers. With a curfew in place in the town, should journalists be given extra rights to stay out after that curfew?

After this situation is settled, I’m sure it will be something discussed in the media, and maybe even in the courts.

I don’t think that every student at some point in college will have to fight for their rights against the police or another authority figure.

But if I had to give advice right now to any incoming freshman, it’s that you deserve to know what you can and can’t do in the eyes of the law, and that’s something that will aide you after you leave Towson.

One Comment »

  • Alexandra said:

    Solid piece, Jon! Thanks for this important reminder.

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