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Los Angeles Violates the Constitution, Bans Photography in a Public Park

By Justin Heyes on August 9th 2017

The freedom from prosecution for expression of religion, peaceful assembly, or the unabridgment of speech and press are inherent human rights granted to citizens of the Free World. Photography itself is not a crime and falls under the First Amendment of the US Constitution, yet we are bombarded with stories of local municipalities and police officials encroach on these rights.


A few weeks ago Capitol Hill police officers forced journalists to delete images during a protest at the Senate for a healthcare bill. Federal courts have repeatedly avowed citizens have the right to take photographs, as long as it is in a public place. While technically the third floor of the Senate wing (the location of the protest) is not public, the force deletion of photos and confiscation of memory cards violates the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment, respectively.

Most recently, Los Angeles has issued a ban on photography for a free concert at a public park. Cliff Cheng, a photojournalist on the staff of the Los Angeles Collegian newspaper, brought this to the attention of the ACLU after he attempted to get a press credential and was denied to cover the free, no-ticket, public concerts at Pershing Square, a public park in downtown LA.

Falling under the Rules and Policies of the Event, a ban has been placed on photography, audio recording, and distribution of leaflets. The rule from the LA Recreation and Parks website reads:

At the request of the artist/performer, video, photo and audio devices are prohibited at Pershing Square’s Downtown Stage Saturday concerts. This includes Pro cameras, monopods, tripods, selfie sticks, iPads or professional photography/ video equipment of any type. This policy will be strictly enforced due to contractual agreement.

The ACLU affirmed to Cheng that such rules were not Constitutional and wrote a letter to LA City urging it to adhere to the Constitution. The policy drafted by LA Recreation and Parks has gotten the attention of an alphabet soup of organizations that protest its legality. Organizations such as the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), Professional Photographers of America (PPA), and the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) each have written their own letters to the City of Los Angeles.

Public parks have long been deemed public forums by the United States Supreme Court”, states ACLU of Southern California Chief Counsel Peter J. Eliasberg,”…Pershing Square is a public forum, and remains one during the Summer Concert Series. The Park does not suddenly become a non-public forum even if the City in some way yields control of the park to a concert promoter or other private party during the concerts, contrary to the City’s belief and practice.”

The banishments of “pro cameras” and the like, including recording devices such as modern cell phones, is a gross misuse of local government power. Neither the City of Los Angeles nor the performers of a free concert have the power to violate rights protected by the federal government. Photographers should be well informed of the difference between a rule in a private venue and a violation of the First Amendment. The letter, which was issued August 3, gave the city 10 days to ensure that steps are being taken to solve these problems or appropriate action will be taken. The full letter can be found here. I implore you to read it.

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Justin Heyes wants to live in a world where we have near misses and absolute hits; great love and small disasters. Starting his career as a gaffer, he has done work for QVC and The Rachel Ray Show, but quickly fell in love with photography. When he’s not building arcade machines, you can find him at local flea markets or attending car shows.

Explore his photographic endeavors here.

Website: Justin Heyes
Instagram: @jheyesphoto

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Perry Smith

    A few years ago Austin, TX had a ban against photographing people in public places for “sexual gratification”.  It was thrown out:

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  2. Molon Labe

    Let them fine you and find an attorney that wants to get rich to file suit against the city for violation of your constitutional rights.

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  3. Jim Bachert

    Every time myself or my friends have tried shooting at Pershing Square, a public park, during the day, non-events, someone has told us that photography is not allowed.  Smh.

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  4. Alex Kemp

    Great article; I wonder how far this can be stretched for things like public beaches and public property around our own cities. I’ve been asked to leave several times from public parks and spaces for having pro-gear as they say its inherently commercial because my friend is on the other side of my lens modeling.

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