On May 12, Emily Good was arrested and charged with obstructing governmental administration.
On that evening, Good, who lives in Rochester, N.Y., saw flashing blue lights outside her home and went outside to see what was going on. At the edge of her lawn, police had stopped a motorist, had handcuffed him and were asking him questions.
The three officers were polite in speaking with the motorist, and gentle in detaining him.
While police were interviewing the motorist, Good stood on her lawn in her pajamas and filmed the encounter, which she later posted online.
As an officer walked the detained motorist to a cruiser, another officer approached Good and asked her to go into her house. She asked why, pointing out that she was on her own property and was entitled to film activity on a public street. The officer told her that he didn’t feel safe with her standing behind him.
The officer was polite, but insistent.
Good was equally polite, and confused.
She explained that she was concerned about what was going on in her neighborhood, she was not armed, and she was not getting in the way of officers making the arrest. Most importantly, she was entitled to stand in her own front yard.
The officer ordered Good inside; she refused to go and was arrested.
On Monday, the charge against Good was dismissed after her attorney argued that Good would have had to use intimidation or force to interfere with the traffic stop to be guilty of obstruction. Since she was 10 to 15 feet away from officers, prosecutors dismissed the charge, with the full support of the city’s mayor, council president and police chief.
Some people in that city supported the police response as justified, according to the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper, but Good’s supporters say police arrested her simply because they were aggravated by her videotaping.
Whatever you might think of the situation, Emily Good is among a new and permanent class of citizen journalists — people who actively gather information and “publish” it online.
When reporting and publishing truthfully and responsibly, Good is a welcome breed.
As Edward Wasserman, Knight professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University wrote in Sunday’s Press Herald, without citizen journalism the public would never have seen the brutal beating of Rodney King a decade ago.
We would not have seen videotape of the University of Florida student who pleaded with police: Don’t Tase me bro!”
Police are an easy target for citizen journalists, and some departments across the country have earned increased public scrutiny because of rough tactics.
But, citizen journalism is so much more than monitoring police.
Right now, citizen journalists are augmenting professional journalists in reporting the flooding in Minot, N.D., just as they did during and after Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Citizen journalists reported on 9/11, have covered G8 Summits around the world and track celebrities like the most determined paparazzi.
But most citizen journalists are like Emily Good, people concerned about what’s going on in their neighborhood and reporting what they see.
This new stream of information, as long as it is accurate, is not to be feared but embraced.
People standing outside their homes, recording activity on neighborhood streets are not criminals.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.