Arkansas – There is a very old saying that still circulates today that states, “If you give an inch, they will take a mile.” It would be wise for Arkansas legislators, voters, and the courts to keep this old saying in mind while considering HB 1236 (ftp://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/Bills/2017R/Public/HB1236.pdf). The bill would essentially make it a crime for anyone to distribute a video or dash cam recording of a police officer being killed in the line of duty. The concept is easy to understand. The video is released either by the department, a freedom of information request, or a copy slips into the media. Once there, it takes no time for the video to end up on social media, online video sites, and just about anywhere the Internet reaches. The video that is the driving force behind HB1236 has been published by almost all major news outlets in the United States, the United Kingdom, and dozens of other countries. Agree or not, the fact is the video is viewed as news and news that people want to watch.
Regardless of where you stand on the video being released, two things are clear. First, the video is terrible for the family to see over-and-over again on the Internet. Nobody will deny that it is likely hurtful, brings up anger and frustration for the family, and makes it difficult to heal and move forward with life. The second thing to consider is that the video was released under Arkansas’ Freedom of Information Act – an act designed to ensure the government does not hide, cover up, conceal, and keep information from the public that the public has a right to know.
Supporters of the bill, and there are many as it moves through the legislators in Little Rock, not only point to a North Carolina bill that allows for the same actions, but they also note that restraining the release will protect the family. It’s understandable, it’s logical and just about anyone would want to protect a family. The death of a police officer is never anything to be treated in anyway other than respect and dignity. That officer put his or her life on the line daily to protect families, individuals, property, and others. Making an “Internet Sensation” of the moment he or she gave their life is simply wrong and disrespectful.
While supporters make a good point, it has to be remembered that opponeats to the bill also make a good point. We are nation founded on the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. With the Internet, that freedom has never been more readily availble to the average American than it is today. Anyone with a basic computer, access to the Internet, and the mind to do so, can publish his or her ideas, opinions, thoughts, and even videos. A quick search across the Internet will reveal that the freedoms we hold so dear are clearly seen in Christian publications, News publications and, like it or not, even porn publications. The Internet not only opens the door to the freedom of speech and the press – it practically screams FREEDOM! So, when opponeats say that a bill stopping the releases of dash cam videos involving officer’s deaths, and in fact making it illegal to publish them without a court’s permission, they have a valid points. They cry out that not only does this bill violate the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, but it also violates the very foundations that make of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States so important to protect. Under that amendment “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press;…. Since the current House Bill contains language that would allow for the arrest of anyone distributing the video or at least future videos of a dash cam or other video of a law enforcement officer’s death, then suddenly it appears that Arkansas is prepared to go where Congress can not. Arkansas is set to violate the First Amendment pertaining to the freedom of speech and the press. So in the end, opponents make a solid argument as well.
Ultimately, what Arkansas must consider is will HB1236 violate the First Amendment, will it violate Arkansas’ Freedom of Information Act, and will it set the state on the path of limiting freedoms? As horrible as seeing this video over-and-over is to the family, the bigger impact of trying to protect them and other families may very well lead to restrictions that we as a freedom of the press and speech loving nation are not prepared to allow. After all, taking this small step, giving this inch, could be the prelude to giving a mile more at a later date.