This past Sunday, 27 July, in Rome, Italy, 36-year old photographer and web developer Simon Griffee was arrested in front of the Colosseum after taking a photograph of a police officer grabbing a Bangladeshi street seller. Simon was passing through Via Fori Imperiali on his way to see his mother. He walks here almost every day on his way to work and often shoots photos as he walks.
Approaching the Piazza Colosseo, he heard a commotion among the tourists on the sidewalk and turned to see a Polizia Municipale e Protezione Civile officer grabbing a Bangladeshi selling sun umbrellas. Simon reacted, raised his camera to his eye and took the photograph. The civil officer released the street seller, shouted, "Da mi questa machinetta!" (Give me the camera!) and roughly grabbed Simon's arm causing him to fall back as he pulled away.
In the moments that followed, Simon called 112, the carabinieri, for help and was referred to the carabinieri parked in front of the Colosseum. But the carabinieri only observed as Simon was harshly questioned and ordered into the Polizia Municipale's car, after being told he was resisting arrest though never being told that he was being arrested in the first place.
The officers took him to several stations, one near Circo Massimo for questioning and another in Tor Cevara for fingerprints. While he was being questioned, the photographer realized it was best to remain silent after three officers told him that he would be held in jail for five months to six years. They agreed amongst themselves that Simon had hit them. They took his camera, had already taken his phone and searched his belongings. With the officers standing above him, threatening him with jail time, not allowing him to make a phone call, he became afraid and realized they had complete power over him. He was helpless, alone and there was nothing he could do. The officers forced him into believing that if he did not sign the papers he would be held in jail for an unknown time.
Simon signed the papers and was released, though his camera still remains with the police. The papers he signed under police coercion say that he voluntarily gave up his rights to a lawyer, voluntarily gave the police his camera and did not need a translator. These papers also say that Simon committed crimes: he resisted arrest and assaulted police officers.
In an interview with La Repubblica, the police said that the photographer threatened the police officers. They also said he made a dramatic and violent protest and that the photographer prevented them from arresting the street seller. It is unclear why they took the time to arrest the photographer instead of the Bangladeshi man as well as why the police are still holding Simon's camera. Simon now has legal representation.
Photos by Simon Griffee. For more photos of Rome by Griffee see his website