Night Life: Big Brother Edition

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Last month, Star News staff writer, David Reynolds, reported brilliantly  about Wilmington’s plan to install surveillance cameras downtown.  That’s the jest of the article.  The city has video cameras.  They are going to install them.  And they will watch us.  City spokeswoman, Malissa Talbert reassured us of their purpose in Mr. Reynolds’ article. “This is not about general surveillance….it is very focused and very specific.  Our only interest is in safety and security.”

These cameras, when they are installed, are slated to cover a square, from Orange Street to Walnut and from Third Street to the water.  A nice and neat square.

This is where most of the bars are downtown, where most of the activity takes place.  An area covered by cameras “for our protection” is nothing new.  London has the Ring of Steel, where 500,000 cameras watch the city, with streets set up in such a way that it is impossible to not be seen. New York City is planning the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative based of the Ring of Steel.  The idea is to have the cameras as a deterrent, as a information gathering tool, and as evidence when crimes do occur. Washington DC has just set up a camera system.  In an article in the Washington Post on February 11, the officer in charge of the program, Mel Blizzard, mirrored our own Mallisa Talbert.  “This is not intended to be Big Brother watching but to be more responsive to our residents’ needs.  As long as you put protocols in place, which we have, we can be answerable to the community and the government.”

Some question the police’s measures.  In an article in the April 24th edition of the Boston Globe, Sarah Wunsch of the Massachusetts ACLU said, “Its one thing for a private business to have a surveillance camera on a particular spot on their property.  When it’s the police or other law-enforcement agency, it takes on a whole other meaning.”  Bruce Schneier, writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, sees both sides of the story.  “It’s obvious that we are all safer when the police can use all techniques at their disposal.  What we need are corresponding mechanisms to prevent abuse, and that don’t place an unreasonable burden on the innocent.”

Our downtown area is nowhere near as rough as Washington DC, NYC, Boston or, maybe, San Francisco.  We do have our problems.  People are getting mugged at night.  I was mugged at the very edge of it. If we had cameras in place then, would it have stopped my attacker?  No, probably not.  I would have been treated to a replay, however. The police might have gotten a picture of him, and saved me two hours looking through mug shots.  But I highly doubt it would have changed anything.

Any sort of surveillance system is a placebo and a cure.  It is a stopgap and an answer.  If a camera looking down on the street makes you feel safer, than the police are doing their job. If the cameras being in place deter one woman from being raped or harmed in anyway, then the cameras are worth their money.  If the cameras deter one person from drinking and driving, then the cameras are worth it.  The price is our privacy, and it is a high one. There is everything right and wrong about a camera system downtown.  It is a bad idea and a needed solution. It isn’t the police department’s fault that there are people in this world willing to hurt us, willing to do whatever they want to get what they want. The social-economic problems of crime are the gangrene of our civilization.  We have to cut a part of us to save the whole damn thing. No, I do not want the cameras downtown.  And yes, sadly, I do think they need to be there.  I hope they install them soon.

Also:  On a far less serious note, the Cape Fear Roller Girls are going to do battle once again, Roller Derby style.  Just in case you didn’t know, Wilmington has a Roller Derby league, with our own team and t-shirts and everything.  The next match up is May 17th at the CB Rec Center down at Carolina Beach.  Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for kids.  What can you expect?  From he FAQ on their website, “Is Roller Derby a Family Sport?” and they answer, “that depends on how you raise a family. If you don’t let your kids watch MTV or Monday Night Football, then probably not.”  I think we should have a children’s roller derby league.  Get those little girls in skates and give them broom sticks.  The best way to learn independence is to knock someone out, right?  Maybe you shouldn’t ask me how to raise kids.  Good evening…

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