North of the White House, 11/2/04

I visit the White House and the Mall every few years. The trip to DC is a celebration, visiting the hallowed ground of our American republic.

Washington DC is a changed city since September 2001. The Northern Snakehead breeds in the Potomac, anthrax has been in federal buildings. The anxiety and sense of foreboding are palpable, there are armed men everywhere.

Courageous American citizens on a passenger plane died saving the White House. They paid the rent of freedom.

The White House belongs to the people of America. We elect the President/Resident. Its our house. We love and respect the house. It is the seat of our democracy.

N.O.W. protestors 11/3/04

November 3, 2004

The day after the general election. John Kerry deliberated whether to hold or fold over the results in Ohio. What a privilege it is to be an American! The leadership of the executive branch hung in the balance and tanks were not rolling through the streets. Rather, journalists talked, and the people waited for the vote to be tallied.

In this climate of liberty I was confronted by an armed man on Pennsylvania Avenue. He demanded the film from my camera. In the name of the Law he proposed to relieve me of my work product. In his eyes I threatened the security of the United States of America. I had taken a picture in this public area that somehow trod on security concerns.

Note! There were no signs visible saying “no photography allowed.” I was northeast of the White House.

At that moment I failed. Power should not emanate from the barrel of a gun, power should not be applied out of ignorance or fear.

How did I fail? I failed to politely request the officer’s name and agency. I failed to ascertain what law I had broken, I failed to ascertain by what authority (other than that of his gun) he was breaching my liberty.

In defense of the officer: He was doing his job, no doubt he is a conscientious family man, an exemplary federal employee. Was he operating under broadened rules of engagement? Was he in possession of Intelligence that merited accosting and intimidating a middle-aged tourist?

I implored him to look at me. “I am a photographer, I am a patriot, I would do nothing to harm our country.” I dearly wanted to hold onto my film. Photography is what I do, I had a few exposures on the roll that I felt were promising.

I pleaded, I beseeched. His agency must have a review process, an authority who could develop my film and censor the offending frames.

My appeals were summarily denied. He was hot. He said I could destroy the images or the “situation would escalate.”

I had no desire to test the judiciary of the boot-heel, to discover first hand what Kafkaesque definition of “escalation” would be applied to me. I have immediate responsibilities and a life I dearly love. I submitted to the destruction of my work-product (see contact sheet below).

film damaged by exposure to daylight

It troubles me. It troubles me that I backed down so readily. It troubles me that there are guardians of our freedoms who hold those same freedoms in such low esteem.

Capital Hilton ballroom 11/3/04 Earlier that same morning:

A worker cleans up in the Capital Hilton ballrooom, site the previous night of the DNC’s watch-party.

Damage at the bottom of the image secondary to work of the zealous officer.

It is my hope that US law enforcement representatives discriminate between tourists and terrorists.

11/9/04, Laura Bush spoke at a ceremony reopening Pennsylvania Avenue.

Rather than confiscate my camera, the guard accepted a compromise, opening the back of the camera.

AUDIO of the encounter.(600Kb-MP3)

local newspaper digs into story

Right to photograph federal buildings upheld

old pocket litterhomesite index