No, not in the Soviet Union or the People’s Republic or some other repressive, lawless state.
Here, in N.Y.C.
Thank you, George W. Bush, for ushering in a new era.
In the map of New York’s most forsaken places, it would be hard to top the Freeman Street stop on the No. 2 line in the Bronx, late on a February afternoon. Around 4:30 last Thursday, Robert Taylor stood on the station’s elevated platform, taking a picture of a train.
“A few buildings in place,” he noted. “Nice little cloud cover overhead. I usually use them as wallpaper on my computer.”
Finished with his camera, Mr. Taylor, 30, was about to board the train when a police officer called to him. He stepped back from the train.
“The cop wanted my ID, and I showed it to him,” Mr. Taylor said. “He told me I couldn’t take the pictures. I told him that’s not true, that the rules permitted it. He said I was wrong. I said, ‘I’m willing to bet your paycheck.’ ”
Mr. Taylor was right. The officer was enforcing a nonexistent rule. And if recent experience is any guide, one paycheck won’t come close to covering what a wrongful arrestin this kind of case could cost the taxpayers.
Twice in the last five years, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority proposed a ban on photography in the subways as an antiterrorism measure. And in 2007, the city proposed severe restrictions on filming in the city streets, but retreated when visual artists and activists gathered 26,000 signatures on petitions of opposition within a few weeks.
Both times that the transportation authority tried to ban photography, it, too, dropped the idea because of opposition. Even so, people taking pictures in the subways are regularly stopped by the police and asked to let the officers see their images or to delete them.
“They don’t have to do that, and it’s completely unlawful to ask them to delete them,” said Chris Dunn, a lawyer with the New York Civil Liberties Union. “But it comes with the explicit or implicit threat of arrest. It’s a constant problem.”
Mr. Taylor — a college student and an employee of a transportation agency that he did not want to identify — said he had been stopped before when taking pictures, but without problems.
Not this time.
“I said, ‘According to the rules of conduct, we are allowed to take pictures,’ ” Mr. Taylor said. “I showed him the rules — they’re bookmarked on my BlackBerry.”
Rule 1050.9 (c) of the state code says, “Photography, filming or video recording in any facility or conveyance is permitted except that ancillary equipment such as lights, reflectors or tripods may not be used.”
Then a police sergeant arrived.
“He tells me that their rules and the transit rules are different,” Mr. Taylor said. “I tell him, ‘If you feel I’m wrong, give me a summons and I’ll see everyone in court.’ The sergeant told them to arrest me.”
In handcuffs, Mr. Taylor was delivered to the Transit District 12 police station, and a warrant check was run. “They were citing 9/11,” said Mr. Taylor, whose encounter was described on a blog by the photographer Carlos Miller. “Of course, 9/11 is serious. I said: ‘Let’s be real. We’re in the Bronx on the 2 train. Let’s be for real here. Come on.’ ”
Before he was uncuffed, he got a batch of summonses.
The first was for “taking photos from the s/b plat of incoming outgoing trains without authority to do so,” abbreviating “southbound platform.” It cited Rule 1050.9 (c).
The second was for disorderly conduct, which consisted of addressing the officers in an “unreasonable voice.”
And the third was for “impeding traffic” — on a platform that is about 10,000 square feet. “I don’t know if you can impede traffic with 15 people per hour coming on the station,” Mr. Taylor said.
LAST year, the city settled a lawsuit with a medical student who was using his vacation to photograph every subway stop. He got through five before an officer handcuffed him and detained him for about 20 minutes. With legal fees, the cost to the city was $31,501 — more than $1,500 a minute.
In the case of Mr. Taylor, the “officers misinterpreted the rules concerning photography,” said Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman. “The Transit Adjudication Board is being notified that summons was issued in error, resulting in its dismissal.”
However, the police will press on with charges of impeding traffic and unreasonable noise, Mr. Browne said.
For his part, Mr. Taylor said he was late meeting his girlfriend: “It wasn’t a pleasant sight. I said, ‘I’ll make it up to you.’ What else could I say?”
Thanks to the police, they might end up with more than a nice dinner or two — at taxpayer expense.