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One Thing That Is Worse Than Guns

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 9/11/2015 Cynthia Dill

I met Jeff at the Woodfords Congregational Church, a polling place in Portland, Maine, on Election Day. He was videotaping people collecting and providing signatures to put a citizens referendum question on the ballot.
Jeff was nice. He's from Appleton and answered most of my questions politely, and didn't object to me videotaping him as he videotaped others.
When I asked whether he was carrying a gun, Jeff said no, and I was glad because he was sitting in a chair about 5 feet away from a table where pleasant-looking senior citizens were volunteering their time for democracy. Two of them told me outside later they were uncomfortable with Jeff's presence.
"This is not right," said Maureen Hyslop, a stylish woman I guessed to be in her seventies.
Another, Johannah Hart O'Brien, who had snappy barrettes in her hair and is a retired teacher of high-risk kids, was collecting signatures for the background check bill out of concern for student safety. "I feel intimidated by him," she said of Jeff, "but we created this reality with guns everywhere." And she wanted to do something about it.
Our new reality is cameras and guns are everywhere against a backdrop of a Constitution that protects speech, voting, privacy and gun ownership.
Sick and tired of police abuse and oppression, black people are filming arrests to show the public and authorities their reality, while the Justice Department recently instituted a policy of recording interrogations.
"Creating an electronic record will ensure that we have an objective account of key investigations and interactions with people who are held in federal custody," Attorney General Holder said. "It will allow us to document that detained individuals are afforded their constitutionally-protected rights. And it will also provide federal law enforcement officials with a backstop, so that they have clear and indisputable records of important statements and confessions made by individuals who have been detained."

Even the American Civil Liberties Union, a civil rights organization that "generally take(s) a dim view of the proliferation of surveillance cameras in American life," has concluded "police on-body cameras are different because of their potential to serve as a check against the abuse of power by police officers."
On Election Day in Portland, it wasn't Jeff's camera that was creepy, it was that he sat in a chair for hours aiming it at strangers that was disturbing. And for what purpose?
A friend had texted Jeff a day or so before Election Day about a new group -- Project Dirigo -- so Tuesday morning, Jeff showed up and was deputized with an official-looking badge by a guy named Shane, who Jeff met for the first time and whose last name Jeff didn't know.
Project Dirigo never had a meeting, and Jeff was unaware of any website or Facebook page, he told me. There hadn't been any emails, in fact Jeff had no idea who else was in the group besides his one friend who sent him the text message, his wife and Shane, who gave him the camera and a mission to "protect" the integrity of the petition process.
Jeff's charge was to tape people for hours at the polls, and he did. When I asked him what the purpose of the videotaping was, Jeff said he didn't really know -- just that the tapes would be used to make sure the rules weren't broken.
When I asked Jeff what the rules are, he didn't know, but one thing is certain. Jeff, his wife and his friend are members of the NRA and they oppose the background check bill, and Shane Belanger is the past president of the Maine Open Carry Association, according to news reports.
When I asked Jeff his last name, he laughed and refused to give it to me. "I don't give my name out to random people," he said as his camera captured the images and conversations of strangers.
Videotaping people is like burning flags. It isn't an issue that's black and white, or red or blue.
I met Gregory Trueworthy, a retired Army Ranger and Republican, outside of the church. He had very white teeth was sporting fitted military-like attire that showed off his big guns. A self-described "Second Amendment guy," he supports background checks and believes people who want to carry concealed weapons should be required to get a permit.
Trueworthy told me he is "security sensitive," and spotted Jeff and the camera immediately upon entering the polling place. He "didn't like it," and thinks Jeff should not be allowed to film people without their permission.
Most of the people I spoke to outside of the polling place, however, felt differently. Many didn't even notice Jeff's camera, and those who did appeared to care little.
A guy videotaping people collecting signatures might be scary to some, but more frightening to me is that a guy like Jeff joined a group in response to a text message, and traveled from Appleton to Portland to wear a badge and spend the day videotaping people for a cause he knows very little about.
So you're uncomfortable with Jeff and his camera? Welcome to America. Others are uncomfortable with you, or with gay marriage, or with protesting. To be uncomfortable and free is our creed.
Jeff's camera is not scary, but his apparent blind faith to join a group simply because it purports to support guns is scary. People joining ideological groups without knowing answers to basic questions is scariest of all.
Jeff didn't know the rules about collecting signatures to put a question on the ballot about background checks for gun buyers, but he was eager to make the trip from Appleton on Tuesday to videotape strangers to make sure they weren't broken.
Cameras aren't going away. Electronic recordings are mashed together with security concerns and justice in an era of terrorism and technology so we might as well embrace their potential while we search for answers to questions about privacy.
Maybe the only thing that can stop a bad person with a video camera is a good person with a video camera.

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