Miami-Dade County via their Miami-Dade Transit Department puts out government contracts to improve our public transportation. I work for a construction company that was invited to bid on one of these projects and this is my story. On September 28, 2009, along with a business partner, I visited five Metro-Rail Stations to photograph potential job sites. These public sites are “guarded” by the private security company Wackenhut (whose contract has not been renewed). The treatment I received from these taxpayer funded goons was so shocking that I had to share my experience with you.
At the first station I had no problem doing my work, I took my photographs and moved on. As I walked up to the second station I was greeted by two power-tripping guards that quickly welcomed me into the reality of the horrors of governmental and private company unions and their inane bureaucracies. To be clear, at all times I had in my possession the plans and contract book from Miami-Dade County stating the job description, locations, and purpose. I also identified myself and my intentions at every stop. It was at this stop where the debate and discussion on one’s constitutional right to photograph in public blossomed. I spent about one hour trying to get into the station to photograph the area, which I was not allowed to do. Out of constitutional principal, I decided to challenge their claim that I needed permission and could not photograph the facilities. As I waited in front of these Wackenhut guards, I called Miami-Dade Transit and was on the phone being transferred from department to department until I was finally transferred to Eric Muntan, Chief of the Office of Safety and Security at Miami-Dade Transit. To be fair, he was very helpful and solved the issue at that particular station.
I spoke to Mr. Muntan for several minutes explaining the situation and heard his take on the matter. I was upset and quickly stated my constitutional right to photograph in a public place, which I had repeated to the guards, to which they robotically replied that I had no right to film in a “private place.” I did not know that Miami-Dade Public Transportation Stations were PRIVATE!
Mr. Muntan was very respectful on the phone and contacted the necessary parties to inform the guards in front of me to let me in. Unfortunately, his order to the other stations never went through.
At subsequent stations I already knew what to expect. Once again, I approached the station and introduced myself and explained myself. This guard appeared to be calm and wise, at least I thought based on his calm, non-emotional, respectful tone of voice. All that changed after he began talking about his “interpretations” on the law.
At this point, I was just so amazed and shocked that I wanted to hear more on his rationale. This guard had some of the best quotes of the day. Some of them are: “Miami-Dade Transit is not Public,” “The Constitution does not apply on Miami-Dade Transit grounds,” “The County Ordinances supersede the Constitution,” and the best justification for those lovers of the expansion of the police state…”9/11,” yes he said, “Now, after 9/11 your constitutional rights are different.” At this point, I was in shock that a Wackenhut Security Guard was stating this was the policy of the county and Wackenhut. He spoke with so much confidence and belief in the absurdities he was uttering that I said to myself, “This country is doomed.” This was a nice older man repeating unconstitutional, unfounded, non-statutory propaganda and made up law…Welcome to America.
The last stop: I am Ricky Rodriguez and I am going to take pictures now. Period. After having put my business partner through torture as we rode around the MetroRail I told him, “do not worry, I will just photograph from the public entrance with my zoom…I can’t take any more stupidity.” So thus, I went into the final station. I went directly up to the guards and started talking to them. I told them who I was, what I was doing, showed them my county contract bid book, and told them I was going to photograph from the public area. I did not wait for an answer at this point. I was fast and aggressive but calm and respectful in my tone. My presence was fast and did not seem to interrupt their group discussion. I did not give them a chance to offend our constitutional liberties with their comments. I quickly thanked them and waived goodbye.
The unfortunate experience I had with Wackenhut underpins the bloated, inefficient, and disgraceful state of our transit system. The County should be aware that its mismanagement and abandonment of the transit system could have legal consequences, especially when their hired representatives violate the Constitution of the United States. As Benjamin Franklyn said, “Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.” I for one will not be returning to the MetroRail.
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