I Was Escorted From A Mall For Taking Photographs of My Family

It’s two days before Christmas, and I had to finish my holiday shopping for family gifts. I headed to Ross Park Mall in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a mall owned/run by the Simon Property Group, INC; a mall I grew up going to.

I had my camera around my shoulder because I wanted to pick up a tripod, and needed to test it out with my camera. While taking a break in the food court with my two brothers, mom and dad, I ordered a veggie gyro at Flamers (which was delicious, by the way). The young man making my gyro struck up a conversation, and was intrigued that I taught digital photography in New York City, so I offered to take his photo. He enthusiastically agreed, and I took the photo (left), and gave him my Moo card so that he’d be able to get the copy from my Flickr set, later. I then went and sat with my family while we ate. After we were done, we took some cheezy, mall family shots at the food court tables!

Then, we walked around the mall some more. As we were walking, I was approached my a mall security guard. He told me that taking photos in the mall or of the mall was against mall policy. He told me that I would need to delete the photos while he watched.

As I teach a digital media course, I’m familiar with photographers’ rights (resource 1, resource 2, resource 3, resource 4).I explained that I would not delete the photos, but that I would leave the mall immediately. I asked if this was ok. The guard (Maurice) explained again that it was against policy, and that I needed to delete the photos. I repeated that I would not delete them, but I would leave. He relented, and said that he would need to follow me out. He did so. When nearing the door with my shocked family, it occurred to me that I wasn’t done shopping! I asked Maurice if I could put my camera in the car, and return to do my shopping. He said that I was violating mall policy, and could not do that. I asked to speak to the manager, if it was possible. He said that it was.

The uniformed  manager arrived, spoke with Maurice, and then returned to me. He repeated the policy violation, and I repeated my request. I added that my mom would leave with the camera, and I would continue to shop if that was ok. I added that I just need to finish my Christmas shopping! (gotta tug at the heart strings a bit) He said, let’s make a deal, you delete the photos, keep the camera, and then keep shopping. I said that I couldn’t delete them, but I’d gladly remove the camera from the premises. He said that he didn’t want me to leave, and appreciated that I wasn’t being hostile, and he wanted us both to have a happy holiday. While his words were nice, he was still very stern, and talking very close to my face. I was really itching to take his photo at that moment, but didn’t think it would go well. b

I really couldn’t understand what they wanted. I knew that they couldn’t make me delete the shots from my own camera. But I also knew that they could ask me to leave, and that I’d have to (private property, and then I’d be trespassing if I didn’t leave), but lastly, and most importantly, I needed my gifts! In the end, after three mall security guards were around us, and one Ross Township police officer was standing just nearby, he agreed to let me take the camera out of the mall, and return to my shopping.

I’ve never felt so out of place in the United States, let alone my hometown mall! People are discussing this issue all over, from NPR, to Flickr New York City members, to the NYCLU vs the NYPD. It’s incredible to think about how many security/police resources were directed at me, the gyro-photographer while I actually heard their radios going off over a car accident in the parking lot! But to them, policy became security. And perhaps, in some way I can’t possibly understand, the photo to the right is some sort of security breach/threat to the mall.

I’m sort of writing this blog post stream-of-thought, and a somewhat fired-up-stream-of-thought, so I hope that it makes sense. I’d love to hear some simple responses on whether this is reasonable, whether I was unreasonable, or whether the laws are clear/unclear. Any input from photographers, mall goers, gyro eaters, and community members, would be much appreciated.

An exasperated, but Christmas-present—mission accomplished arvind. Happy holidays all!

arvind s. grover

I am a progressive educator, a podcaster (EdTechTalk.com/21cl), a blogger, and dean of faculty of JK-11 school (building a high school) in New York City.