When Using Your Cell Phone Camera Becomes a Felony

When Jeremy Marks, 18, saw an altercation between a police officer and another student near his Los Angeles high school, he did what most teenagers would do: pulled out his cell phone and began recording. While the involved student received a school suspension, Marks was later arrested for obstructing an officer, resisting arrest, criminal threats, and—most bizarre of all—“attempted lynching” (of the officer). Facing years in prison, and unable to post the $155,000 bail, Marks spent the next seven months in jail awaiting trial. He was released only after Google engineer Neil Fraser heard of the case and decided to pay Marks’s bail.

Marks’s only “weapon” was his cell phone camera, and the police officers admit that he did not touch anyone during the encounter. Rather, they claim that Marks said, “kick her ass,” in reference to the officer, Erin Robles. They have presented no proof that he made such a comment, nor have they explained how this amounted to “attempted lynching.”

One month after Marks’s release, approximately thirty LAPD officers burst into his home, guns drawn. According to Marks’s mother, the officers refused to show a warrant, and then proceeded to ransack the house, taking all computers, cell phones, and cameras from the premises.

Police departments around the country have been fighting to make such recordings illegal, using decades-old “illegal electronic surveillance” and anti-wiretapping laws. These efforts have especially increased since cell phone cameras captured the police shooting of Oscar Grant, an unarmed twenty-two year-old in Oakland, California in 2009. Civil liberties groups point out how this campaign has been waged while police use of video surveillance—including streetlight cameras, license plate readers, and even unmanned drones (in the case of the Miami Police Department)—has increased.

Anti-War Veterans Lead Civil Disobedience at White House

Military veterans carried out a civil disobedience action at the White House over the winter against the Afghanistan war and the ongoing occupation of Iraq. Pressing themselves against the White House fence, and refusing dispersal orders, 135 activists and veterans—many of them in uniform—were carried away, one by one, over several hours. Despite the frigid temperatures and heavy snow, hundreds more rallied in support.

The action was sponsored by Veterans for Peace, the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition, March Forward (an organization primarily composed of Afghanistan and Iraq war vets), and several other groups. In addition to the current wars, veterans of Vietnam, Korea, World War II, and other conflicts were also among those arrested. Organizers called the civil disobedience the largest such action led by veterans in a decade.

Massey CEO’s Golden Parachute Surpasses Settlement for Dead Miners

The cameras have long since left the tiny town of Montcoal, West Virginia, where twenty-nine miners with Massey Energy died in an explosion in April 2010. Massey Energy CEO, Don Blankenship—a powerful rightwing political broker who called government regulation “nonsensical”—came under fire for the accident.

In December 2010, a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission revealed that Massey had provided Blankenship with a $12 million severance package, including a “house-for-life” guarantee. In exchange, Blankenship agreed to not speak against the company. The same month, citing the Fifth Amendment, Blankenship refused to testify at the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety, and Training.

The $12 million severance award is four times larger than the settlements Massey Energy offered to the families of the miners who perished in the April explosion.

Coalition of Rite Aid Workers Holds Nationwide Actions

Protests and pickets took place in forty Rite Aid locations across the country to call attention to the corporation’s pattern of increasing executive pay at the expense of workers’ benefits.

The Coalition of Rite Aid Workers— formed to support Rite Aid employees— includes dozens of community groups, student organizations, church groups, and unions. Jobs with Justice played a leading role in the actions, as did the United Food and Commercial Workers, whose Local 880 held a big rally in downtown Cleveland. Rite Aid locals, organized by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, also organized pickets.

In Northern Ohio and Lancaster, California, Rite Aid workers face large hikes in health insurance costs. The company has obstructed attempts to secure a fair labor agreement and replaced a large unionized distribution center with a non-union facility. To add insult to injury, CEO John Standley recently doubled his own compensation to $4.5 million.