Ugh, I have some weird deathly ill throat virus that started as body aches, moved to a cold, and now is agonizing pain in my throat and a gross clammy fever. I’ll be back next week with more extensive Morning Filing.
1. Cameras in Uniacke Square
Metro Regional Housing Authority plans to install security cameras in Uniacke Square.
From Jacob Boon’s article in The Coast:
Department of Community Services spokesperson Heather Fairbairn says the CCTV system is an attempt to address ongoing problems with unauthorized parking and illegal garbage dumping.
If we actually believe that issues with parking and garbage require a full surveillance system and are the only motivation for these cameras, then the implication is that MRHS has calculated that the right to privacy of people in the Square is worth less than making sure garbage is in the right dumpster. In this best case scenario, the rights of the entire neighbourhood have been deemed to be less important when weighed against the inconvenience of managing some cars and garbage effectively.
Garbage disposal is an issue around Halifax West too. Residents in North Preston have been complaining for generations about white people coming into their community to dump garbage, so maybe there should be cameras up in nearby white communities to surveil white residents. Hell, the city placed a giant garbage dump in the middle of Africville, so maybe they should pay reparations to the former residents, and then the North End community would have its own resources to decide what they want to do with their own housing, parking, and garbage.
It’s pretty clear, however, that residents aren’t buying this official explanation. Boon quotes Josh Creighton from the North End Community Action Committee:
“The number of complaints [MRHA] has received about the standard of living in Uniacke Square, and they haven’t done anything to address those issues,” he says. “But they have money for surveillance cameras? It’s just crazy.”…
…More bluntly, Creighton calls the cameras dehumanizing. They are an unknown authority staring down, unblinking, at a largely-Black neighbourhood that’s historically been disenfranchised.
“It’s like animals in a zoo, in a cage,” says Provo. “You’re putting up these cameras to watch humans, like they’re not even human.”
Kyturera Jones, a current resident of Uniacke Square, wonders why the MRHA is suddenly so concerned about its residents—and if there aren’t better ways it could be investing in the community.
“They don’t upkeep their units,” she says. “If they’re worried about our safety, they should come full-force about that.”
Coming upon the heels of the data about police checks revealing that Black people are stopped three times more than white people, and that the data used from these disproportionate checks is then fed into maps which are used to designate “high crime” areas and deploy more police into those neighbourhoods, it’s impossible to separate the installation of security cameras from the culture of criminalizing, policing, and surveilling Black bodies.
As the recent case of hacked school security cameras in Cape Breton made clear, the data from these cameras is not secure and can easily be accessed. If people are concerned about the privacy of children in Cape Breton, what about the images of Black children playing outside that can be misappropriated and shared online? And what about women and their families who may be hiding from an abusive partner, and who now can’t be sure that their location won’t be broadcast somewhere online?
Beyond the possibility of images being hacked, we still haven’t got any straight answers from the police about what happens to the data they accumulate from police checks. Desmond Cole’s protest at the recent Toronto Police Board meeting demanded that police restrict access to historical carding information, while police have argued they are legally obligated to retain the data. There is no reason to imagine Halifax Police respond differently to the information they gain from checks, and it is certain that they keep and access this information.
If the police maintain information from their checks, are we to believe that Housing is simply going to scan through the images, look for illegal dumping or parking, and then erase them?
And what happens if (when) the police demand the records and use them to form further profiles on people from the neighbourhood? These cameras allow police and other authorities to essentially track and watch community members from childhood, compiling profiles and images of everyone in the neighbourhood. And no doubt these images can then be used to prove so-and-so smoked weed and therefore deserved to be shot/beaten by police/lose their job/be evicted, etc.
As residents point out, Housing won’t spend money to renovate units or look after other safety concerns, but they can find money to install cameras. As always, the Black community is denied positive resources, but there’s always money to be made for others off of Black bodies. It won’t be a Black-run company who gets the contract to install cameras either (which still wouldn’t make surveillance okay), so as usual resources are extracted out of Black communities to benefit everyone but Black people.
Just as the prison industrial complex encourages us to “invest in punishment” rather than in employment, education, treatment, or healing for communities, contracts like these security cameras see Black communities as exploitable rather than fixable. Black communities are deliberately deprived of resources because they then generate money for other people.
If we don’t educate Black children in schools, then white people can set up programs and organizations that get money to tutor those same children. If Black youth aren’t prepared for jobs because of this failure of education, white people can start non-profits to create programs with those youths to prepare them for employment, and profit from that.
If Black people are disproportionately policed and incarcerated, Black families are paying for lawyers, paying for phones in prison, paying for canteen, and otherwise sending resources out of our communities to prop up the prison system which couldn’t survive without us putting this money in (if prisoners refused to work, and families refused to send in any money to buy clothes, food, TV, phone time, etc. it would cost hundreds of millions more to run the system).
Of course, if Housing, for example, allowed long-term residents to rent to own and put money into keeping up the units so that they were desirable homes, the community itself would be empowered to control their own parking, garbage, and security without relying on outside companies or on the government.
The more agency people have over their living space and neighbourhood, the more likely they are to organize together to mutually care for that space and the less likely people are to damage that space when they have responsibility and ownership for it. But rather than helping the community invest in improvement, it’s better to just bring in a company to make some money off whatever problems in the community can be exploited.
Look at the “tour” of the community, for example. Rhetoric around the Square being high crime and dangerous has been circulated for years in white communities (for example, university first-year students report being told to never go in the neighbourhood). This narrative created about the Square as an area “we” don’t go in contributes to the stigma of the community, and furthers the othering of Black bodies. But let there be a contract out make some money off policing the community, and companies are now coming in to “tour” the area, to see where they can best position cameras.
There are a number of issues with this construct. For one thing, this essentially pre-frames the community. People who are unfamiliar with the community except usually through negative coverage are not being brought in to see the community in a different light — to get to know the people living their day-to-day, share in their experiences, or see all the positive things that take place in the community. Instead, they are being brought in only to see how the community can be watched.
This essentially re-inforces an already negative perspective. When we tell people not to go in a community, and then only bring them in to see the community’s problems, how can their interventions be anything but biased?
Then the installation of cameras further designates this community unsafe and a problem, feeding back into the same rhetoric. Rather than making the community safer, these strategies all label Black people as more dangerous than white people and in need of being controlled.
Judith Butler talks about how seeing isn’t actually neutral. We imagine we see “reality,” and that seeing is “objective,” but in fact we see what we are conditioned to see, and we don’t see what we are not taught to see. Seeing is actually ideological.
If we are taught to see Black crime, then we also install cameras to further that seeing, which then teach us even further to see Black people as uniquely criminal.
Here, for example, Butler examines how the video in the Rodney King beating that showed seemingly inarguable evidence of police brutality against white bodies was actually seen by white people as showing the Black threat to white police. Butler writes:
That it [seeing King as the threat and the police as victims] was achieved is not the consequence of ignoring the video, but rather, of reproducing the video within a racially saturated field of visibility. If racism pervades white perception, structuring what can and cannot appear within the field of white perception, then to what extent does it interpret in advance “visual evidence?” And how, then, does such “evidence” have to be read, and read publicly, against the racist disposition of the visible which will prepare and achieve its own inverted perceptions under the rubric of “what is seen?”
Butler explores how white people could see in the King video not a Black man being brutally beaten, but a body “threatening police, and saw in those blows the reasonable action of the police in self-defense.” Her point is that racism structures how white people literally see the world — just as earlier cartoons depicted grotesque parodies of Black bodies and faces that white people “saw” as accurate, racist narratives around neighbourhoods like the Square ensure that white people “see” these neighbourhoods differently.
Rather than simply installing cameras that will neutrally and without bias gaze upon the community capturing objective evidence, the very act of choosing to put cameras in the Square already determines how that community will be seen, and already “prepares” us to see evidence of criminality.
Black people, of course can barely set foot in white neighbourhoods without the police asking us what we’re doing there. We can’t even go buy groceries in the store without being accused of stealing. In our own neighbourhoods, we will be watched by cameras, and out of them, we will be watched by whatever other authoritative white eye reminds us we are out of place and do not belong.
Where are Black people to go and how are we to live and breathe when are options are stay home under the gaze of the camera, or come out and be followed around the store?
Meanwhile, Dalhousie students are doing $90, 000 drug deals out of the frat houses and equipping their apartments with gun safes, but sure, Black people are the only problem here. Given the number of sleep watchers, flashers, public masturbators, and rapists in the South End, you’d think maybe cameras would be a priority there.
Human rights lawyer Anthony Morgan, formerly of the African Canadian Legal Clinic compares the installation of cameras to the tracking and surveilling of Black bodies during enslavement.
It’s reminiscent of lantern laws in American cities like New York, where, before central electricity, Black folks were required to walk around with lanterns after dark so they could remain visible. The subtext of this is that Black, otherwise radicalized, and/or poor folks are prone and predisposed to unknown acts of violence, crime, and deviance, so they need to be under constant supervision of the state and higher authorities to maintain social order and public peace.
This is part of slavery’s afterlife. Instead of providing communities with resources and supports to decrease the push factors of crime (i.e. poverty. poor housing, unemployment and under-employment, etc.) we invest in violent technologies of surveillance and policing.
Just as theorists of the school-t0-prison pipeline identify the installation of technologies such as metal detectors, security guards and school police into Black schools as pre-conditioning children to being searched and watched in prison, cameras installed in communities similarly accustom Black people to being policed and incarcerated.
The Black neighbourhood becomes a “panopticon” prison, where Black people are policed even in the open air. As if it wasn’t enough to disproportionately put us into actual prisons, now even when we’re not in prison we can expect to be subjected to prison-like conditions.
As Angela Davis has identified, the technology of the prison always makes its way outwards into the so-called free world. Worst of all is the gaslighting to convince Black people that this is for our own good.
In her book Dark Matters, Simone Browne, looks at how Blackness is a key site through which surveillance is practiced. From the slave ship, to the recording of Black movement in the Book of Negroes, lantern laws, runaway slave ads, and other historical practices, to contemporary policing, prisons, and security, surveillance is a “fact of Blackness.”
Even when Black people use technologies of surveillance for our own purposes, such as filming the police, those acts can be turned against us — for example, King’s beating being read as him being threatening, police claiming they mistook a camera for a gun, police arresting someone filming and charging them with resisting arrest, etc.
Beyond formal practices of watching Black bodies, white people often collaborate in cultures of surveillance, for example by calling police or security on Black bodies perceived to be out of place and therefore threatening.
The constant logic of authority is that surveillance equals safety. We are increasingly convinced to mortgage our privacy rights under the belief that airport searches or school security officers or our work tracking our keystrokes is intended to keep us “safe.” This rhetoric is repeated so often that we never question what safety actually means or how “safety” is being deployed. If a claim is made to “safety,” then that claim becomes unquestioned, and is used to squash dissent.
Cameras will not make people in the Square safer. In fact, there’s a good argument it could contribute to making people less safe by further stigmatizing the neighbourhood, leading to less investment in the community, and further alienating residents from each other and from their own community.
What would make people more safe is affordable and secure housing without the threat of eviction, non-precarious labour, strong tenancy organizations, and returning ownership of the community to residents who are empowered to collectively make decisions about their own well-being and given the resources to make improvements.
Safety is being safe from police checks and safe from having your data kept forever. Safety is being safe from racism and safe from being criminalized. Safety is feeling like a human being.
2. Must be nice
Speaking of images, there’s a marked difference to the way Taylor Samson’s death is covered compared to how Black shooting victims are represented.
Testimony in the trial has indicated that Samson was selling 20 pounds of weed — worth $90,000 — when he was murdered. So he was a drug dealer. Of course, he is consistently described as a “physics student.” Even Sandeson, accused of the murder and also a drug dealer, is generally described as a “future medical student.”
Let Black people be arrested with bags full of money coated in blood and see how they describe us. Police seize a couple of thousand of dollars from Black people and they display it on the front page talking about they busted up a major gang in their operation. But when it’s white guys who are apparently drug kingpins with full security systems wired in their apartments and drugs growing in their closets and safes with guns and bullets in them, they’re still “students.” Where are the stories about “Operation Dalhousie” with police busting up drug rings at the university?
Friends and family are openly testifying in the trial that they knew about the drug dealing. Of course, if you’re a Black or Indigenous or poor woman who knows about your boyfriend dealing or about his criminal activity, then you’re probably doing jail time, or you’ve been threatened with having your children taken away, or they’ve used the threat of charging you as an accessory to try to get you to tell on him (and face being labelled a snitch and being endangered in your community).
God help a Black girl whose boyfriend was carrying 20 pounds of weed. They’ll be charging her as a co-conspirator and threatening her with 10 years.
This is the picture Global News chose to illustrate a story about Black shooting victim Daverico Downey:
This, in contrast, is the image used of Samson:
Black victims, of course, have their drug dealing, gang connections, previous records, and anything else to smear them reported. White victims, even when engaged in the exact same activity are still allowed white innocence.
Sandeson, accused of the murder, is interrogated with more kindness than innocent Black people get in encounters with police checks.
I’m not suggesting we should start smearing white victims, threatening their families, and traumatizing them. But it would be nice if even innocent Black people could be accorded the same humanity and dignity habitually granted to white people no matter what it is they’re accused of doing. We are assumed to be guilty just by existing, and are treated accordingly. White people, even caught on tape with bags full of drugs, are still allowed to be seen as people, not as criminals. And white killers are yet again viewed with more empathy than Black victims. If only some of that sympathy were ever extended to us.
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