Posts Tagged 'downtown Los Angeles'

LA’s Gas Tower Full of Hot Air

UPDATE: YouTube removed the video due to an apparent “privacy” complaint.

We had to go to downtown for an errand this week and, since we’d been hearing some reports of continued harassment at US Bank Tower, we thought why not do a little photographers’ rights reconnaissance while we’re there? We’re happy to report that the US Bank Tower is as friendly and respectful as ever, with a security guard coming out after a few minutes to hand us a courtesy card – and then turning right back around to go inside.
One block down at the The Gas Company Tower, however, they are apparently not on the same page (and it’s owned by Maguire Properties and patrolled by Universal Protection Service, same as US Bank). After a minute or so of harmless shooting of an escalator, a security manager who identified himself as Ivan came out and told us we couldn’t take photos of a private building. We told him that’s not true and we were on a public sidewalk. He said it was a private sidewalk (and we were very aware of the easement plaque). The usual back and forth ensued.

We ended up talking to Ivan for a bit, and he changed his tune once he realized he didn’t really have any facts to go on. He ultimately made some comments about respecting photographers’ rights and kept mentioning a courtesy card inside they normally hand out, but he really didn’t seem very prepared to tackle this issue for his superiors. It was interesting that a security manager of a major skyscraper in LA would come out to reprimand photographers and not be armed with courtesy cards, his own business cards, or any knowledge of the law. But, I guess they pay these guys just to reiterate.

The takeaway is this: Knowing your rights and standing your ground is essential. Undoubtedly nine out of 10 photographers security approaches at the Gas Company Tower apologize and leave immediately. The security staff is then emboldened to enforce a nonexistent law and trample on constitutional rights, and there is absolutely no incentive for them to do otherwise.

Interestingly, someone has filed a privacy complaint with YouTube due to the above video. How does it infringe on anyone’s rights? No face is shown, no last name is given; we’re on a public sidewalk discussing a policy that relates to photography in public. What an incredibly lame move from a very small person – someone who is perhaps embarrassed how he comes off? Just speculation, of course.



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!

“Wasting Breath” with US Bank Tower’s Security Team

As we previously posted, a group of NPRO members set out this past Sunday to photograph Los Angeles’s lovely downtown. This area is notorious for its excessively vigilant security personnel, and we wanted to see if we could exercise our constitutional rights and shoot the array of skyscrapers freely and openly. It turns out we couldn’t.

As we began photographing the US Bank Tower at 633 W. 5th Street, managed by Maguire Properties, we were approached almost immediately by a Universal Protective Services (UPS) security guard, and soon there were six (6!). We were told they would call the police and we would be arrested, that no pictures were allowed from their “private sidewalk,” that they actually owned the sidewalk,  and that we were idiots and jerks who should quit asking questions.

The kicker is that, when Angelo of Hollywood politely explained photographers’ rights to one of the UPS guards, he responded that that was just “differing points of view.” Yeah … except that one viewpoint is about the law, and one is not.

Please Voice Your Concerns:

US Bank Tower
633 W 5th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 615-6300

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