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  1. #1
    David Lyga's Avatar
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    THOU ShALT NOT PHOTOGRAPH VA HOSPITALS

    Federal Bureau of Investigation Philadelphia 16 June 2011
    600 Arch Street, 8th Floor
    Philadelphia, PA 19106


    Special Agent in Charge: George C Venizelos:

    I am writing to you in hope of clarification of a matter that you are at least peripherally involved with on an ongoing basis. While my experience was specific to Philadelphia, it applies generically to many other venues throughout the United States. There are many people like myself who want and deserve clear, accurate parameters on this issue. The question I have is this: What may I photograph?

    At noon, Monday 13 June 2011, I went to the VA Hospital at 3900 Woodland Ave, Philadelphia, PA in order to meet someone who had a Minolta XG1 35mm film camera for sale. This was a location convenient for both of us, as I live relatively close by and he was going to the VA for an appointment. I arrived at the guard post and was prevented from going further because I am not a veteran and had no ‘bona fide’ reason for being allowed to pass. I explained my situation: that I was to meet someone who had a camera for sale, and called the other party on my mobile phone to say that I could go no further than the guard post. This party arrived at the guard post a few minutes later and I greeted him and proceeded to look at his camera. The scenario I have outlined below is but a microcosm of what many serious and causal photographers experience daily in a hyped ‘post 911’ environment. Just last week New York’s MTA published a statement affirming the rights of people to be able to take photographs on its public transport, effectively negating law enforcement ad hoc policy, and the news story was read nationally with great interest. More often than not it seems that law enforcement ‘makes its own rules’ that are more congruent with their biases and emotions than are tied directly to applicable statutory law. I, we, many seek answers which will attenuate this unnecessary ambiguity, enlighten understanding, and refrain from merely placating, redundantly, solely the biased sensibilities of the lower tiers of the profession you are in: law enforcement (and not law enactment). In this regard my attempt is bold, my justification is legitimate, but my hope is tenuous.

    The guard was not obnoxious but was adamant when he said (as I accurately paraphrase): "If you take a picture the guys will come down from the roof on bungee cords and I'll have to take you in". I had never intended to ‘take a picture’ but I feared that merely testing the shutter on this camera would have been sufficient to have ‘committed the crime’ in his sorry eyes. It seemed to be more a synergism of ignorance factors, both creation of ‘on the spot’, nonexistent legal statute and of a near-desperate reaffirmation of his personal enforcement status, as opposed to any in-depth, rational thinking. We both know that law enforcement personnel rarely appreciate intellect and too often consider others’ personal rights to be an impediment to their perceived effectiveness. Feeling that I really and truly deserved neither an acrimonious debate nor the same reception that an Osama bin Laden clone would merit, (although the scene would have provided a stellar opportunity for a photo student to record spectacular video footage if the bungees bungled), I was rather taken aback and more confused and stunned than angry. He was not a tyrant, after all, but merely ignorantly informed and adamantly arrogant. He could not possibly err. Why, I ask all readers (law enforcement or not), can we not have definitive, consistent answers to simple questions? I pondered about this and came to sensible conclusions; I can almost guarantee that the FBI will refuse to offer any direct assistance here because of the forthcoming conclusions I will impart. Truth hurts. Read on.

    After a minute or two the guard sharply told me to ‘pack up and leave’ which I dutifully did. The Vet and I walked a couple of blocks until we were on ‘safe’ territory and transacted the business. (This Veteran told me, voicing some justified amazement, that he was not even asked for ID by these same guards when he came for his appointment and was apologetic for my experience in the predicament.) Why did we have to ‘escape’ the guard post? Because ‘enforcement’ seems to be formulated as a continuing contest of egos (that the FBI will feel necessity to ‘prop up’, regardless of the fallout, ambiguity, or blatant unfairness). Law enforcement cannot appear to be in the wrong, even at the expense of rectitude. And, although valor sometimes includes admitting that one is morally or ethically wrong, THAT personal admission takes a heck of a lot more courage than ‘kicking ass’ does. Thus, for benefit of this mere civilian, David Lyga, ambiguity, vagueness, and duplicity must be resolutely defended and promoted by law enforcement and incorporated into the 'answer' which I seek because there is simply no way that one law enforcement agency will allow another law enforcement agency to appear uninformed, wrong, (or worse.) These agencies stick together on the ‘civilian rights vs. enforcement’ front. On the other hand, this perception of 'super patriotism' that law enforcement loves to enshroud itself in is usually less a reflective ‘selfless love for one's country and people’ than a hidden, selfish desire to cover its collective butt. Proof? Why did actual legislation have to be passed forcing law enforcement agencies to share vital information with one another after '911'? 'Forcing', yes FORCING law enforcement to share information was necessarily mandated by Congress in order to protect people and property. Was one law enforcement agency's desire to 'look good' (in comparison with another competitive law enforcement agency) more important to said agency than proper dissemination of vital information amongst other law enforcement agencies? Yes, it was and is: Our legislators (prudently) thought so and acted accordingly. And being pacifist, anti-military, and anti-war, I can yet unqualifiedly state that I have more concern with 'safety for all' than do many law enforcement personnel in this regard. My ego means nothing to me when tested along that continuum; I do not need to 'look good' if I can offer information that will save lives. I do not need to ‘pick and choose’ which way to disseminate information in a manner that will make me look 'best'. I would not need to deprive other law enforcement agencies of relevant information in order to aggrandize my ego and status. Without being compelled to do otherwise, most law enforcement agencies would intentionally misplace priorities. And you know that, George.

    Agent Venizelos, might you venture beyond my pejorative assessment and provide, finally, a meaningful reply for people who have no fame, fortune or favor in this skewed society? Or, would it be easier and more 'productive' (from your standpoint, of course) to allow a ‘default ambiguity’ to persist so that law enforcement can continue to enact new laws of their liking, and not merely enforce EXISTING laws (as they are mandated to do) in order to keep me and others 'in line', malleable, and manageable?

    Agent Venizelos, I ask you again, is it legal to take a picture of the VA Hospital at 3900 Woodland Avenue in the City of Philadelphia? Refusal to answer this largely symbolic question will answer many other more relevant questions and will manifest as a truly salient, unified de facto response. Thus you are conveniently prevented from ‘not responding’.

    Certainly, as you were growing up in the Bronx you were afforded bounteous opportunities to visualize, directly, the difference between 'winning with virtue' vs. 'winning with vermin'. I am positive that you are more than simply aware of that difference at this stage in your life.

    I am available to visit you in person in your Philadelphia office: do you accept my offer?

    Respectfully,

    David Lyga



    David Lyga 2003 Chestnut Street # 308 Philadelphia, PA 19103 landline: 215.569.4949 email: david33x@yahoo.com
    Last edited by David Lyga; 06-17-2011 at 07:56 AM. Click to view previous post history.

  2. #2
    Barry S's Avatar
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    You're writing a bizarre, rambling and nearly indecipherable letter to the FBI about a clarification of VA hospital policy? Good luck with that!

  3. #3

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    So far as I know, the FBI has little or nothing to do with security policies or procedures at VA installations. It's probably a DoD line of authority.
    I'm in agreement with BarryS, if you really intend to send this to someone in charge, be it FBI or some other agency, stick to the facts. Be clear and objective in describing what happened and what your intentions were.

    As for the chances of getting a clear, bounded statement of policy relating to photography, that actually says something, probably nil, but worth a try, maybe.

  4. #4
    Sirius Glass's Avatar
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    I think it is a carefully written clear statement of the situation and problem. David put in all the relevent information to eliminate misunderstandings and avoid a continuous stream of letters back and forth to completely clarify the situation. Further David clearly state what he want. A Special Agent in Charge will have a law degree and think like a lawyer. When one needs a clear legal opinion from a lawyer, it is best to speak or write in the form and langauge that lawyers understand. A basic tenent of writing is to write to the level of your audiance.

    Furthmore, by posting the open letter in a publically viewable forum, the Special Agent in Charge will feel obligated to respond. The only thing that I see that is missing in the letter is a cc: at the bottom stating that the letter is publically posted.

    The letter should also be addressed to the head of security of that VA facility and to head of security of VA Headquarters in Washington DC.

    Steve
    Warning!! Handling a Hasselblad can be harmful to your financial well being!

    Nothing beats a great piece of glass!

    I leave the digital work for the urologists and proctologists.

  5. #5

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    This is outside the FBI jurisdiction.

    As said above, send it to the head of Veterans Administration, as well as the head of security for that particular hospital.

    But most importantly, send copies to both your state senators and your representative in Congress. Make sure the VA knows you are sending copies to your elected representatives.

    I can't emphasize enough how important it is to contact your elected representatives on this matter.

    Also send this to the "Letters to the Editor" at the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, as well as your local TV station news departments.
    When I grow up, I want to be a photographer.

    http://www.walterpcalahan.com/Photography/index.html

  6. #6
    jp498's Avatar
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    You weren't taking photos and were not detained. I don't see a big problem. You're apt to get as much BS out of a security guard at a concert or night club.

    A hospital in a big city, they probably have to protect their parking places, as much as their security. As far as security goes, I know the VA hospital in our area has to deal with a great deal of mental health issues as well as physical ailments; e.g. the state police shot a deranged gunman on VA hospital property last year.

    If you are meaning to send it, I'd suggest making it more concise as well, run it by a lawyer, and send it to someone in charge at that facility. Or not send it and save your rightful concern for a time when you are actually taking photos and get in trouble for it. (And have someone videoing it)

  7. #7

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    Looks to me like the whole facility is readily visible on Google Street View.

  8. #8

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    It's at least five times longer than it needed to be. Who cares if you're a pacifist? And what's up with the reference to a photo student filming an Osama bin Laden clone?

    Carefully written? Sure. Clear? Not even close; more like showing off your writing skills and vocabulary. I think the only thing this will accomplish is having the FBI open a file with your name on it.

  9. #9

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    maybe you should try to call him instead ?

    it's much easier to have a telephone conversation with someone
    than reading a long letter ... AND call the director of the VA Hospital near you.

    good luck !

  10. #10
    Sirius Glass's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jp498 View Post
    You weren't taking photos and were not detained. I don't see a big problem. You're apt to get as much BS out of a security guard at a concert or night club.

    A hospital in a big city, they probably have to protect their parking places, as much as their security. As far as security goes, I know the VA hospital in our area has to deal with a great deal of mental health issues as well as physical ailments; e.g. the state police shot a deranged gunman on VA hospital property last year.

    If you are meaning to send it, I'd suggest making it more concise as well, run it by a lawyer, and send it to someone in charge at that facility. Or not send it and save your rightful concern for a time when you are actually taking photos and get in trouble for it. (And have someone videoing it)
    Good points
    Warning!! Handling a Hasselblad can be harmful to your financial well being!

    Nothing beats a great piece of glass!

    I leave the digital work for the urologists and proctologists.

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