My rights questioned while shooting the US Airways jet


Yesterday, January 19th, 2009, I had to run a few errands, one of which was going to take me very close to Weeks Marina in Jersey City, NJ, where the US Airways A320 jet from the flight 1549 “Miracle on the Hudson” landing is being dismantled on a barge. Being a photographer, I packed my gear into the car and out I went with the intention of just snapping a few shots of this little piece of history and moving on.

I drove down Port Jersey Boulevard,  a spot I am familiar with because there is a waterfront observation tower erected there for the purposes of bird watching. A spot I have been to many times without incident. However, on this occasion, I felt like I was in some movie, maybe like Men In Black, or Wargames.

When I got to the tower, I drove past many news vans, and drove past two marked police cars, without even giving it a second thought. I didn’t drive past any police tape, no “No trespassing” signs, nothing of the sort. The spot is a very industrial/international shipping area, but I was not on any private property, after all, there is a public bird watching tower setup there, with marked parking, and hours of operation posted. I was there at around 10:30AM, well within the posted hours of “Closed – 6PM to 6AM”.

So, I climbed the tower, and took a few shots, climbed down, walked the shore line a little bit and took a few other shots, when I see a white mini-van pull up, and a woman wearing a Reuters [news agency] baseball cap on hopped out, and promptly, without identifying herself, asked “Can I have your ID”? To which I responded, “for what?”. She said I was trespassing on federal property, something nonsensical about me being in international water (makes NO sense) and that I had to leave immediately.

Well, I was already finished shooting, so I just said, OK, whatever, and started back to the car. As I was walking away, she mentioned something about federal prison. I turned back and re-stated that I was leaving, and she responed with “just take your pictures and get out of here and make it quick”.  I never did show her any kind of ID.

I didn’t really have my wits with me, nor did I have the time to sit and argue with her, and, I have some responsibilities at home (wife and 9 month old) that I can’t afford to be taken in and questioned and held for no valid reason. Hindsight, I should have first asked her for her ID when she asked for mine because she came out from an unmarked van and she was not wearing any sort of recognizable uniform. I could have argued about it being a public spot, where I have been many times and never been questioned about why I was there.

I just don’t understand why people feel the need to act this way about photographers. I’ve read the stories about the guy who was detained by police recently, for shooting the trains, for a contest that Amtrak themselves sponsored, I’ve read other stories about this sort of abuse, and I just do not understand the thrill these folks get from acting in this way.

Once the plane leaves, I might go back there and document the spot a bit more, but for now, here is one of the shots I took.

US Airways Flight 1549 on a barge in Weeks Marina

Perhaps, even more ominous, is this massive flock of geese I captured just the day before, when I was in the area just shooting in general.  The lens I had with me just didn’t do the size of this flock justice.  It was at least twice the size.

Ominous large flock of geese near Liberty State Park

In the end, I am just glad faux security lady didn’t use her mind eraser on me…