Filming the Police is not a Crime

Daisy Valera

Havana police car.  Photo: Caridad
Havana police car. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — With respect to Cuban police officers, my Spanish friends and acquaintances more or less unanimously agree on one thing: compared to cops in Spain, all of them look like nice guys.

After hearing several anecdotes about the Spanish police, I couldn’t help but agree with this impression.

During my last, unpleasant encounter with “law and order officials”, the news about the Spanish police and the use of video cameras during protests came to mind.

I was chatting with my husband Eduardo and some friends at the park located on the intersection of G and 23 streets. Suddenly, a teenager (who looked mentally unstable) began to curse and throw kicks about him, fighting, perhaps, with an imaginary rival.

A few seconds later, a mob of somewhat surprised and jovial people encircled the youngster, which had suddenly become a source of amusement for them. A young man, who apparently knew him, was doing a fairly good job of calming him down.

The commotion was interpreted as a brawl by the more than numerous police officers posted at G street, most of whom have nothing with which to fill their boring weekend nights on duty and usually end up recreating themselves (and justifying their salaries) by fining people who accidentally step on the park’s lawn.

Though talking to the kid would have sufficed to put an end to the whole show and get him out of the middle of the street, two of the cops (evidently quite bored) ended up throwing him to the ground, holding his hands down and driving a knee into his back.

Young people hanging out at the G and 23rd St. park in Havana.
Young people hanging out at the G and 23rd St. park in Havana.

This free martial arts demonstration sparked off quite a scene.

The kid tried to break loose as the cops pushed his head down against the sidewalk, deaf to his pitiful cries of “I’m gonna tell my doctor you did this to me!” The people in the crowd began to yell “pigs!” in unison.

Eduardo pulled out his Ipod and began taping what was happening. Seeing this, some teenagers encouraged him.

Almost immediately, one of the police officers took Eduardo by the arm and began to interrogate him and threaten to arrest him.

It was thanks to the fact this same cop was trying to contain the crowd that grew and lunged towards him that we managed to tear Eduardo from his grasp and quickly get away.

Last year, Spain’s Ministry of the Interior attempted to pass a law that would make it illegal for people to film police officers while on duty.

Several sectors of civil society, including different lawyers associations, immediately spoke out against the measure, calling it an unconstitutional bill which dissuaded people from exercising their right to protest. The initiative was unsuccessful.

The “crime” of filming a police officer is nowhere to be found in Cuba´s Penal Code, but Eduardo didn’t spend a night in the Zapata street slammer out of sheer luck.

It is clear that, in order to combat the growing impunity with which Cuba’s National Revolutionary Police abuses its power, we need a stronger, better-informed civil society.

Cuban cops may look like nice guys but they have far too much self-confidence and imagination: if they can’t fall back on an existing law, they make it up, confident they will not be held accountable for this.

Daisy Valera

Daisy Valera:Soil scientist and blogger. I write from Mexico City, where Havana sometimes becomes so small that it disappears. However in others, the Cuban capital is a city so past and present that it steals your breath.

One thought on “Filming the Police is not a Crime

  • The title of the article would better have been: “filming the police should not be treated as a crime”.
    I guess it all depends on what they are doing.

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