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Congress shall make no law...
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And I wondered why people don't trust the government.
I made sure that both of my feet were firmly planted on Roth Road before my Nikon digital SLR shutter started snapping photos of the Defense Distribution Depot San Joaquin sign for a story that was set to run the following day.
As long as I wasn't parked on, or standing on, government property, there was no way that overzealous base security personnel could hassle me, I thought.
Click, click, click.
But it didn't take more than two minutes before I heard a whistle from the guard shack, and as I climbed back into the car I could see two DLA Police SUVs pulling out with their lights on, obviously coming to find out why I was spying on such a delicate, top secret military installation.
No sweat. I made it easy for them - I pulled forward and made a left into the main entrance and came to a stop right next to a man with a gun signaling for me to pull over. He shrugged down to look into the window, and I asked if there was a problem.
"What are you doing," he asked.
"Just taking a picture," I responded.
"You can't do that," he said.
Three minutes, and five more gun-toting, badge-clad officers later, I was told that I was being detained until all of this could be sorted out.
So much for the Bill of Rights.
In a day and age when information is so personalized - where the stories about federal agencies literally pulling people from their beds in the middle of the night and civil rights getting trampled on in the name of "national security" can be overridden by updates about Kim Kardashian's baby or the cast of "Jersey Shore" - it's easy to be clueless.
It wasn't until I heard that whistle, and saw those white SUVs scrambling as if I were holding a shoulder-mounted anti-tank missile, that I realized my first real dose of the post-PATRIOT Act Federal government was coming at like the ground to a skydiver.
"Am I being detained?" I asked the man at my window as he continued to ask me questions.
He assured me I wasn't, but continued to tell me, despite my pleas to the contrary, that my picture taking was in fact illegal.
While I didn't feel it necessary, I informed him of my media capacity and the story that I was working on, and even offered up a business card when he asked if I had one. I could hear my name crackling across the radio.
I asked again if I was being detained. I was told no. By this time, one of the two SUVs that had scrambled was blocking me in from the front while the other had pulled up directly behind me. It was obvious that I wasn't going to be going anywhere for a while, and I turned on the air conditioning as I waited.
"I can't see in the back seat - the windows are tinted," said one of the officers who was standing near the front of my car. The man at the window then proceeded to ask me why I was taking pictures of the security area.
Security area?
I was just taking a photo of the sign out front, I informed him. Again, while I didn't feel it necessary, I pulled out my camera and showed him the pictures to prove that this was all a big misunderstanding.
"You're not allowed to take pictures of the security area," said another officer who had now walked up to the scene.
By this time I was getting frustrated. I hadn't taken any pictures of a "security area" (if by security area they mean guard shack with a bunch of guys standing around doing nothing in the middle of the day, I hadn't taken any pictures of that either.) I produced a business card showing my media affiliation, explained my assignment, and showed the photos that I was taking. This was far more than what I felt I needed to justify my presence.
"Am I being detained," I asked.
"Yes," replied one of the officers, in a snarky tone.
I told the officer at my window that I now had to call my editor, and he told me not to pick up my phone. It sounded like a direct order.
I reached for my phone, and he again told me not to pick up my phone. I told him that they have their policies, and that we have ours, and that if I'm being detained, I need to inform my editor about it promptly.
"If you want to go that route, then you can," he said. I called him, told him that I was okay, and then asked to speak to the base's public information officer.
"She's with the Colonel," one of the officers said. "I'm sure (the Colonel's) going to want to come ask you a few questions as well."
She never showed. All I got was a phone number scribbled onto the corner of a piece of paper. Apparently it was deemed that I wasn't a threat, but was taking photos of an area where "tactics, policies and procedures" were being carried out - something that, according to another snarky officer, their base commander gave them carte blanche to enforce.
Apparently that includes impeding the rights of reporters.
Nobody ever mentioned taking my memory card or deleting my photos.
A photographer from Monterey wasn't quite as lucky last month when he was forced to wipe any pictures of the Naval Postgraduate School he had taken for an unflattering story when stopped by security - being told that he needed permission prior to obtaining any images of the installation.
Legal interpretations, from what I've read since then, vary. But brown shirt tactics are no way of ensuring the safety of the American people, regardless of the era that we're living in.
Congress shall make no law...