On July 14 in Rittenhouse Square, a journalism student from the University of Cincinnati was arrested for photographing a police officer moving a homeless couple out of the park (which, according to our research, is not illegal as long as he did not interfere with an investigation). He sent us an open letter to the officer who arrested him, which is printed in full below:
(An open letter to Officer George Gaspar Jr. of the Philadelphia Police Department.)
Dear Officer Gaspar Jr,
I would like to thank you for your service to the people of Philadelphia. As an officer of the law, you are a servant of the public and enforce their codes. Thank you for protecting our laws that our democratic government has created to protect us. Thank you for doing what you thought you should when confronted by me: taking the interest of the peoples representative legislation and judicial processes over my individual beliefs of what my rights as a human and US citizen are and arresting me in front of some 50 people in that public park.
I was just some kid who had no problem having a new experience: standing up for what I thought my rights are. You were serving your duty when you arrested me as I took photographs of you relocating that homeless couple through Rittenhouse Square. You didn’t think it was something I should be doing and, in the interest of your duty to serve and protect, you arrested me so that the judicial system can decide my guilt.
To me, I thought that it was my civil right to document how the agents of the people’s government treat our least fortunate citizens. To you, I was “interfering with a police investigation” – causing enough distress that you felt it necessary to intimidate, restrain and arrest me after telling me that I could not take pictures.
Regardless of who I thought I was, a credential carrying member of the photojournalistic press, I knew that there was a process. The police of this country are the strong arm of the law – your job is not to decide one’s guilt, but rather to bring people before the judicial system for judgment. That aside, I do appreciate your input in telling me that as a member of the media, it was “bad press” to yell the spelling of my name and identity to bystanders as you hustled me down the sidewalk. But I was just some kid, and I knew I wouldn’t really matter to you the next day. I felt obliged to go peacefully.
The furthest through this I can get by myself is to plead no contest to your charges and find a way to pay the fine before I return to school in my home state of Ohio. I really wont have the chance to present my case as to why I am not guilty of the charges before I leave. By myself, I cant get much done.
Despite how much I feel that my civil rights were violated, your job is not to act as my personal servant, enforcing the rules the way I want you to. You answer to a power far greater than my individual self- you enforce the codes of the People. When the people act as one, we in a democracy can change the laws that you keep as your code: the definition of the relationship between our police and our citizenry. We the people are not only the ones that decide your code, but also weapons, facilitates and paychecks.
So, officer Gaspar, thank you for bringing an issue that you thought relevant enough before the courts, even going so far as to completely abandon your prior ‘investigation’ of moving Sydni and Luke out of Rittenhouse Square. Thank you for thinking of the people’s wellbeing when you decided to arrest a member of the news media in the middle of that crowded park, and thank you, especially, for giving me the experience of what it means to stand up for my rights.
PS. I located the couple shortly after you released me from holding and we talked for a while about their account of the story. I walked away not only with the portrait I had originally wanted, but also a glimpse of the types of bonds that form between citizens under what they see as irresponsibility on behalf of the state. A learning experience of how our law enforcement really works is a lesson far more valuable than any fine.