Friday, January 11, 2008

Big Brother in Baltimore?

As anyone who has been to Baltimore City (or has flown over or driven past on 95) knows, there are several hundred police cameras dotting the city. They have bright blue flashing lights and are usually attached to tall lampposts. They are intended to monitor the roughest areas of the city and to aid in preventing and prosecuting crimes. The first case to bring a conviction from the evidence provided by these cameras was that of a beating on North Avenue in June, 2006.

Whereas I understand how these cameras are helpful, the civil libertarian in me is outraged. I lived in Pigtown, I walked and drove past these cameras all the time. I know that they are meant for good. George W. Bush can't seem to stop saying, "if you're doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about." But I don't like the idea that someone can watch my every move, whether I'm committing a crime, reading a book, or picking my nose. While some might say that this is a great way to deter crime as well as prosecute it after the fact, I disagree. Setting up cameras only moves crime to darker, camera-less locations. It also breeds resentment and mistrust from the people who are being watched. Who wants to feel like they're being babysat? On top of this, these cameras are painfully apparent. The flashing blue lights on them are there intentionally, to broadcast the cameras' presence. If you take a look at Baltimore from a plane or from 95, you can see clusters of them. You won't find a camera in Mount Vernon (at least not as of May, 2007), but you'll find plenty in Washington Hill, along Broadway. If you're driving somewhere and you see one of those cameras, you instantly know you're in a bad area. The cameras say, "everyone knows this is a bad area." I think that's fucked up. We've probably all also heard the quote from Ben Franklin, "those who would give up essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security."

Anyway, now Martin O'Malley, as governor of Maryland, wants to implement another "crime fighting strategy." He was praised for the introduction of CitiStat when he was mayor of Baltimore. This article in today's Baltimore Sun compares O'Malley's new plan to CitiStat. I laughed when I read the last paragraph of this article. CitiStat is a method of gathering information about the city, making sure it reaches the right people, and using it to implement better (?) management practices. Who could argue against that? No one. O'Malley's new plan, to attach GPS units to the ankles of 200 juvenile offenders to monitor their every move, is absolutely ridiculous to me. He has already set aside $1 million to kickstart the program. He should probably set aside another million to use to fight the lawsuits that the ACLU will rightly bring the second we try and slap one of those on someone. Is he fucking kidding? I know that crime in Baltimore is out of control. I know that juvenile offenders are rarely single offenders. I know that they grow up to be adult offenders. I know that this would be a useful tool in determining where someone was when a crime occurred (of course, just because person A was at Ashland and Caroline when person B was murdered, doesn't mean that person A did it or even saw anything). I don't have a soft spot in my heart for the young thugs of Baltimore. But I do have a soft spot for civil liberties, and this smacks of our Orwellian future. We have to draw the line somewhere before we're living in 1984.

No comments: