US Bank Tower: The Aftermath

Photo by NoHoDamon

Our story is gaining steam, picked up by LAist, LA Observed, BlogDowntown, LA MetBlogs and Franklin Avenue, among others.

There has been a hearty back and forth about this issue, and that’s good. It’s getting attention for photographers’ rights, and bottom line, that’s what we’re after.

The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, with photographers and regular folks alike chiming in about their similar experiences and outrage. But, of course, there are always those who will disagree with the mission and the method.

So, to address a few of the common complaints:

1. We didn’t pick the US Bank Tower out of the clear blue. It, along with a few other skyscrapers in downtown LA, have a history of aggressive, unwarranted harassment of photographers.

2. To those who say we didn’t accomplish anything: Universal Protective Services is actually taking this incident seriously, and one of the photographers involved is having a dialogue with executives there about their policy. There’s a good chance they’ll educate their staff better, and that’s a positive result.

002_35Photo by discarted

3. There is no federal, state or city law, code or provision that dictates that one can only photograph here or there or wherever. Some buildings have plaques or markers to signify where their private property begins. Beyond those markers, sidewalks and streets are public property. Photography is perfectly legal on public property. You do not have to ask for permission to practice your craft or your hobby, and you do not need a permit to shoot handheld in public. If your building or refinery or port is visible from a public sidewalk, deal with it. Download Bert Krages’ handy info sheet here.

4. The Patriot Act, enacted by a bully administration after a time of great tragedy (and the perfect example of Naomi Klein’s shock doctrine theory), is used to justify abuses of power and the stripping of many of our basic rights. But neither the Patriot Act or the Homeland Security Act say anything about restricting photography. It is possible terrorists are casing American sights to do harm to them, but one or two – or even six – schlubs with a camera do not really pose a threat to your building. There needs to be some case-by-case logic and thought involved in security guard and police enforcement of these blanket policies.

5. Perhaps some uncivil things were said. In the heat of the moment that happens. Overall this was a relatively pleasant encounter. (There’s been worse and…er, worser.) We realize these guys are just doing their job, but in your own profession, don’t you like to be armed with knowledge about what you’re doing and what your employers are telling you to do? These guards need to be trained better so they can react appropriately in situations like this.

017_201 Photo by discarted

6. Security Guards have no legal authority to enforce any laws whatsoever. They are citizens just like us, that’s it. They can not detain you, arrest you, harass you, threaten you, demand to see your ID, or do anything to you for that matter. They seek out the job, fill out an application and then are hired. Their job is to observe and report.

7. Did we go to the US Bank Tower looking for trouble?

No, we went there to shoot photos of the skyscrapers. Did we go prepared in case we were harassed and threatened by US Bank Tower security guards? Yes.

We knew it was very likely that we would be harassed and threatened, and we were right, because within a minute of arriving, the US Bank Tower guards were in our face. Unfortunately, our videographer showed up a little late and didn’t get the entire confrontation on tape. (Or the previous encounter that took place one a block away at another property managed by Maguire Properties.)

018_193Photo by discarted

8. Why didn’t we call the cops if we knew what we were doing was legal?

Well, we did – twice! Both times we called Officer Johnson at Central Station in downtown Los Angeles, and during both calls we were told that what we were doing was completely legal. We also asked the US Bank Tower guards during both encounters if they would speak with Officer Johnson, however, the security guards REFUSED TO SPEAK WITH A REAL COP – both times!

On top of that, David Sommars can be seen in the above photo, as well as in the video, talking to Officer Johnson. When he tells the US Bank Tower guard this, the guard responds by saying, “I don’t care because you don’t matter to me.”

US Bank Tower Guards Harass Photographers Photo by discarted

9. Why did we continue talking with the US Bank Tower guards and not ask to speak to their supervisors?

We did. When we asked Carlos, the nicer security guard out of the bunch, to speak with his supervisor, guess what? We were told that the most belligerent guard out of all of them was the swing shift supervisor.

So, to recap: The supervisor (above, with open jacket) was the guard that reached for one of our cameras, called us idiots, didn’t cared if he was fired because he had two degrees and refused to speak with law enforcement about the legality of what we were doing.

When we asked to talk to the executives above this guard, we were told they were not in – it was Sunday. (They were probably on their way back to Washington to ask for some more bailout money so they can continue paying these guys.)

024_13 Photo by discarted

10. To reiterate: We were on public property and we weren’t doing anything wrong. Know how we know? Because we weren’t charged or arrested for trespassing, nor were we ever told that we would be arrested for trespassing – just for taking photos … FROM A PUBLIC SIDEWALK!

19 Responses to “US Bank Tower: The Aftermath”

  1. 1 Stephen January 24, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    Wow, that is certainly an experience. I had something like that happen when I was shooting at Ironman Arizona last November. My story is here: I did not resist since I was not sure of what special rules may apply to a special event permit.

  2. 2 Joel Lawson January 25, 2009 at 9:15 am

    Glad to see you guys are getting media attention. If you haven’t already, reach out to local elected officials. There may be one, or more, local electeds who are highly sympathetic to the civil rights and civil liberties issues involved here. Furthermore, when an elected official gets involved, that brings additional rounds of media attention. Additionally, I hope you all are reaching above the security company. They are, of course, just hired by a company that manages the building. And that management company is just hired by the property owner. Often, the owner, and sometimes the management company, have a strong interest in avoiding negative media attention such as what you’ve already garnered.

    Keep up the good work, and many thanks from a fellow photographer who has experienced similar frustrations.

    Eleanor Holmes Norton Schools Union Station Management

  3. 3 Eric Brown January 27, 2009 at 7:13 am


    As a fairly inexperienced, amateur photographer this is an eye opened. I would never have imagined that taking pictures of a build and areas surrounding buildings would have caused such a dust-up.

    Looks like I need to study up on what real photographers (like yourself and others) run up against so I’m prepared if it happens to me and/or my wife.

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. 4 Anonymous January 30, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    Thanks to all of the discarted crew for helping fight these all too common abuses of power. I’ve experienced so many similar situations, it’s glad to see somebody taking this to the streets.

  5. 5 Kevin April 7, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    Stupid rent a cops think they are All that. I would keep taking pictures of them let them harrass me IM ON PUBLIC PROPERTY AND YOU CAN’T DO A THING ABOUT IT. ARREST ME ON YOUR OWN FOR TAKING PICTURES OF YOUR BUILDING. I WILL SEE IT YOU RENT A COPS GO TO JAIL FOR KIDNAPPING.

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