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Arizona Law Limits Free Speech by Allowing Police to Verbally Create a No Recording Perimeter

by Jo Ellen Nott

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed House Bill 2319 into law on July 13, 2002, making it a misdemeanor offense to record police within eight feet of where law enforcement activity is occurring. State Representative John Kavanaugh (R) first sponsored the bill in 2016, at which time it failed.  The second time he succeeded.

In the disturbing trend towards authoritarianism in the U.S., some Republican legislators favor criminalizing citizens’ First Amendments rights. The police, of course, do not want to be captured on any video they cannot control and which will most likely expose their excessive use of force during stops and arrests.   

In an op-ed piece in AZ Central, Rep. Kavanaugh cited the examples of video in the Rodney King beating and the Freddy Gray death shot from more than eight feet away as evidence to support his bill. What Kavanaugh neglects to mention is the video was of no help in either case to serve justice as no convictions resulted from those videos shot at a distance farther than eight feet away.   

In the piece Kavanaugh revealed the true intent of his legislation:  hamstring activists who are working to hold police accountable. Kavanaugh wrote: “The Tucson police officers who asked me to run this bill said that in their area some of these people videotape from one to two feet behind them, even when they’re arresting people.”

 Many observers of law enforcement behavior who record video in close proximity generally do not do so during violent interactions or during arrests. Critics point out, however, that police accountability activists are frequently confrontational when speaking to cops and engage in “First Amendment Audits.” In this type of audit, the observer wants to see and record the officers’ reaction to being filmed within a few feet from them. 

The problem with Arizona’s new law is that it allows the cops to decide what eight feet is by giving a verbal warning. They can turn legal videos into illegal videos by approaching the bystanders recording the action and say they gave a verbal warning. Allowing the police to determine the perimeter of their recordable activity seriously threatens First Amendment protected speech.


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