By: Benjamin Wang
On Wednesday, July 6, 2022, the governor of Arizona signed a law that prohibits people from filming an active police officer from within eight feet. Violating the law, which takes place in September, could result in 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. However, many critics say the law violates the First Amendment.
Republican John Kavanagh sponsored the bill, saying that there was little reason for citizens to be within eight feet of a police officer who was on duty, and that the law would protect them from hazardous areas or interfering with law enforcement operations. “There needs to be a law that protects officers from people who either have very poor judgment or sinister motives,” Kavanagh said. “I'm pleased that a very reasonable law that promotes the safety of police officers and those involved in police stops and bystanders has been signed into law. It promotes everybody's safety yet still allows people to reasonably videotape police activity as is their right.”
K.M. Bell, an attorney for the ACLU of Arizona, is speaking out against the new law. He says that the law doesn’t address any real problem, and that the ACLU is investigating options to undo this unconstitutional law. Bell says that one of the many problems with the law is that it is overly broad and limits too much of what people can do on their phones while near a police officer. According to Bell, this amounts to a First Amendment violation.
"This is a content-based restriction, because I can stand three feet from an officer and play Angry Birds, but I can't stand 3 feet away and record them," Bell said. Other critics, like Mickey Osterreicher, say the law is “arbitrary” and “unworkable” since the restriction isn’t attuned to protests or other unique situations.
Two years prior to the law’s passage, the recording of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd went viral, raising awareness about police brutality and racism. Justice was delivered to the police officer primarily because of bystander Darnella Frazier’s cell phone recording. The First Amendment Coalition of Arizona (FACA) is deciding whether to challenge the law or to wait until someone is charged after the law takes effect on September 24. Dan Barr, a media lawyer for the FACA, predicts that the law will fall once it is challenged.