Hey Everybody, this is Steve. I’m going to share a personal story abut how police use ill-conceived laws to punish people who assert their rights. A few weeks ago, I was in Maryland District Court facing two criminal charges from an incident that happened last June. And through the discovery process that’s where the prosecution shares their case evidence with the criminal defendant… Me I got bodycam footage from the two Montgomery County police officers who were on the scene. I already had video footage from recording the officers with my smartphone which was something that triggered them to issue at least one of those criminal citations. Let’s go to Officer Christopher Brown’s bodycam footage because he’s the officer who pulled me over. POLICE HORN OFC BROWN: Hey! OFC BROWN: Yo, I’m… You gotta stop. I’m pulling you over. BROWN: Cuz you ran the stop sign back there. You’re in the roadway, you gotta follow the rules of the road. Do you have ID? BROWN: Ok, that’s fine. STEVE: How can I help you? BROWN: I need to get your information for the citation. STEVE: Steve … Silverman BROWN: Steve with a V or PH? STEVE: With a V BROWN: Is that your full legal. Or is it Steven? STEVE: Did you see my back there before? BROWN: I did. STEVE: You saw me talking to the young man who was detained? So you’re giving me a ticket because of that. Because I stopped at that stop sign. BROWN: No. Everything here is being recorded. You did not stop at that stop sign before that. STEVE: That’s good. I’m glad it’s being recorded. BROWN: Yeh. You did not stop at the one before that. STEVE: I’m not going to tell you how to do your job. If you’re gonna penalize me for giving educational information to the young man. BROWN: Educate him if you want. I’m penalizing you for running a stop sign. BROWN: Just so we’re clear. And just so we’re clear, Officer Brown penalized me with a criminal citation for failure to stop at a stop sign while riding my bicycle in a quiet residential neighborhood. That happened moments after he spotted me talking to a young black man who Officer Brown and his partner released from the earlier detention I mentioned. So back to my detention with Officer Brown. He didn’t appreciate my refusal to show him my ID. But because I was detained, I gave him my full name, address, and date of birth. Those things were enough for him to check for outstanding warrants and for the county to mail me the citation. That should’ve been the end of the story. But the officers had other ideas. CAR DOOR SLAMS BROWN: Quick question. Do you just try to intimidate me because you don’t want me to give you a ticket or why? BROWN: Ok, alright. I didn’t think you would. I can’t speak for Officer Brown and his conception of intimidation. My best guess is that he mistook the assertion of my constitutional rights as disrespect for his authority. And as he wrote me up, I had this exchange with his partner, Corporal Jason Halko. CPL HALKO: Alright. HALKO: Alright. Well. You don’t have a right to record when you’re stopped and detained for a violation. HALKO: Oh, alright. On the legal merits, I’m right, and Corporal Halko is wrong. Every state and federal court to rule on this question has concluded that filming police in public is First Amendment-protected activity. If it were illegal to record him here, Corporal Halko could have given me a lawful order to stop. But he does this instead. STEVE: It’s a First Amendment right to record. HALKO: Oh, alright. You have a registration sticker a county registration sticker for your bicycle? STEVE: A registration sticker for my bicycle? You heard that right. In Montgomery County, MD, if you don’t register your bicycle with the county, police can give you a criminal citation, and they can arrest you and impound your bicycle! In my case, Officer Brown chose not to arrest me and Corporal Halko talked him out of impounding my bicycle. But they stuck me with criminal citations for failure to register my bicycle and for failure to stop at a stop sign. Soon after that event I got a summons from the State of Maryland to appear in court or face up to 10 days in jail. I didn’t want to wind up with a criminal record for this nonsense so I hired a fantastic attorney and went to court in a suit and tie. Lucky for me, both Officer Brown and Corporal Halko were absent that day! And when my attorney described the charges, the judge shook her head in disbelief, and the prosecutor chuckled as he dropped the charges. I’m very fortunate because I could afford to hire a great attorney. I didn’t need to find child care or risk losing my job to make my court date. But for many of the defendants I saw in court, that was not the situation. Here are my final thoughts for lawmakers, for police leaders, and for the rest of us. Lawmakers. Please stop passing new laws that give police more power to stop and arrest people. Because police will inevitably find creative ways to use those laws to harm people in ways you did not intend. And if you see that police are, for example, misusing mandatory bicycle registration laws repeal those damn laws! Police leaders, if you want your community to trust and support you please direct your officers not to punish people who engage in otherwise legal behavior. If — for example — officers punish someone who video records them you must discipline those officers to enforce the culture you want to see. And as for the rest of us we know that flexing our constitutional rights is not easy. It can cost you your time, your treasure, and in rare circumstances, your life. But we assert our rights, not merely because it’s a cost we bear to live in a free society. We do it because it’s what we do, and it’s who we are.