In the past few days, jarring video of a New York police officer pepper-spraying protesters has spread across the internet and cable news.
The protesters say that the officer's action was unprovoked. Police, meanwhile, say that the pepper spray was used “appropriately.” (Police have also suggested that the video may be misleadingly “edited” -- an allegation denied by USLaw.com, which circulated the video.)
Hopefully, the video evidence will lead to the officer being appropriately vindicated or disciplined. But protesters have also alleged that police are resisting the protesters' efforts to film them. According to Gothamist, “witnesses, including our own photographer, tell us that the NYPD has been specifically targeting photographers and videographers for arrest.”
The Occupy Wall Street protests are only the latest flash point in the controversy over citizens filming police -- an activity that, according to an August appeals court ruling, is protected by the First Amendment.
Two months ago, the issue was also the topic of a surreal debate on the July 21 installment of Fox News' The Five.
Bob Beckel -- the show's only liberal -- recounted an incident in which a police officer had tried to prevent Beckel from filming him. Beckel speculated that the reason some police object to being filmed is that they don't want to be held accountable for failing to “follow the rules.”
Greg Gutfeld, who hosts his own Fox show, agreed that filming police shouldn't be illegal, but he strongly objected to the practice. Gutfeld said, “But I'm on the side of the -- I think you're being a jerk when you film a cop.”
Gutfeld elaborated: “I'll tell you why. Because you only see the bad things cops do. No one ever puts on YouTube a cop doing a good thing. They only do the -- and so like a cop -- 24-7, cops are doing great work. And if one guy does one bad thing, 20 million people see it on YouTube. It's just not fair.”
Andrea Tantaros agreed. “People should have the right to do it as long as it's not an obstruction of justice,” she said. “But ... why would you do it?”
Beckel persisted: “I think it's fair to say there are some times the police overreact in a situation, right? Is it something wrong with having the film of that?”
Gutfeld responded by worrying that if police officers knew their actions might be caught on tape, they would be more reluctant to use a Taser, pepper spray, or some other type of force:
GUTFELD: Let's say a cop trying to break up a fight -- you see this a lot. The cop is there. And it's usually at a concert or something, you have these young guys come around with their camera phones and they're shouting, “The world is watching.” And they're really interfering with the -- the cop starts thinking, about, “If what I do is going to end up on YouTube -- I have to use force, I have to Taser the guy, I have to spray the guy.” But you won't do it, though. He won't do it because he's scared, he's going to get --
“Right,” added. Monica Crowley. “And you now what? That disrupts the carrying out of their duties because if suddenly they're now doing a mental calculation of, 'Well, how many cell phones out there?' Now, you've got some thug who's on the run because he's had to stop and think.”