This Photo Almost Got Me Arrested in Lagos, Nigeria

Honoring death by fighting for rights

So I am running along a random street in Lagos, when I see this poster put up to honor the Glorious Exit of Chief Ezekiel Ojo Alabi Farukan of Lagos Nigeria

Thinking its a beautiful way to honor death, I take a photo, and then I hear yelling. A Nigerian policeman is running at me screaming that I cannot take a photo and he needs to see my camera.

Yelling back, I tell him I am respecting the dead, and he should have more respect too. I then I show him what I am photographing, the poster. He demands to see my camera. Just before we were really going to get into it (I was not going to give up my camera) a woman got off a moped and jumped into the debate.

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Arrested for Photography – Past and Protest

arbat coke ad
Innocent advertisement

See this innocuous advertisement for Coca Cola on Moscow’s Arbat Street. Does it look like a Russian state secret? Like it would have any value to a Chechen spy? Or be the basis for arrest if you took a photograph of it?

I was arrested for taking a photograph of this very sign when I lived in Moscow and I refuse for that to happen in America.

It was a damn cold night in Moscow, -34C. I know this number for the bottom of that Coke ad had a thermometer and when I saw just how cold it was, I pulled out my camera to document the moment – a tropics boy in the frigid north.

No sooner had the flash illuminated the night that two of Moscow’s drunkest finest stepped out of the shadows and asked me for my documents. A standard small-time bribe shakedown I’d easily brushed past before. This time, they didn’t quickly return my documents.

And then I spent a long, cold night in a Russian holding cell waiting for the police day shift to arrive and straighten things out. Yes, I was quickly released, unharmed if a little hungry and sleep deprived, when sober minds took a look at me and my paperwork. But that’s not the point.

The point is that this experience, while maybe expected in Russia, is now playing out in America. A country founded on freedom of expression and a right to public discourse. A country where unrestricted photography by private citizens has played an integral role in protecting the freedom, security, and well-being of all Americans by contributing to improvements in civil rights, labor practices, and police activity.

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