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2006/12/16

Push, Shove, Block and Deny

I am really having a rough day, being made to feel like photography is a crime. First I had issues with the church play (see other post for today) and then what should have been a simple spot news photo of fire crews working on extinguishing a small kitchen fire becomes a really big confrontation.

The call for the fire came in just as John Bowersmith and I were getting ready to have lunch. The Burger King kitchen was on fire. Only about 6 blocks from the office we both made our way over there. Smoke was pouring out of the roof. I got an angle to try and see into the open back door of the restaurant and started making some images. There was not much to see, and the firefighters knocked the whole thing down in just a few minutes. That's when Officer Cindy Romancito of the Gallup Police approached me and told me to back up. Fine. I was not in the way of anybody, and the fire was pretty much out anyway, so why not. So as I started moving back I asked her where to. My exact language was "Where's the perimeter?" At the time I thought my question was pretty clear. Now that I have had a while to think about it I guess she thought I meant "There is no perimeter tape, and no line, so I don't have to back up." Really, I just wanted her to tell me where I was allowed to be - how close. Usually when I come on scene with other officers they tell me "Behind the police car," or "the edge of that spot..."

Suddenly she is getting angry and repeating "back up" but not giving me directions of where to. Having had my fill of people not wanting me to take photos, and being tired of the police in particular acting like my job is a criminal act I stood my ground, asking again where the perimeter was I needed to move to. Then she pushed me. Not a shove, but rather she placed her hand on my chest and applied steady backward pressure to have me move back.

My thought was that I wanted to be sure I could tell exactly which officer it was that was giving me grief, so we could have the paper's attorneys talk to the police department about this later. So, I used my camera with the wide angle lens and made a photograph of her for verification. That's when she got really upset and started trying to cover the lens of my camera. All the while she kept telling me to back up. I did, slowly, wondering how far back I was supposed to go, and made a few images as I went. She grabbed the camera two, possibly three times, blocking me from taking photos.

Now for the really interesting parts. John Bowersmith caught some of the incident with his own camera - though not the part where was pushing me. To see one of his images and the story in the newspaper (it ran on page one) go to The Gallup Independent.
The other thing that has me wondering to myself was that after it was over she strung up police tape - and most of our confrontation was outside of the boundaries of where the perimeter got established. So what was the purpose of making me keep moving back, other than to cause me grief?
(This entry is being posted much after the event - but using the date of the incident for the blog placement)
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