The NAACP branch in York opposes the implementation of a city-wide surveillance camera system. With a criminal justice system shaped by a biased police force, unfair judicial precedents, and steeped in anti-black and racial disparity, installing surveillance cameras would have dire consequences for our black and brown community.
In our search for what is right, we often head for the most popular and brilliant answers to be change. However, as historical overview has shown, without careful and thoughtful consideration of the issue at hand, we can embark on roads that generate long-term problems far greater than short-term solutions ( mandatory minimums, three strikes and you’re out). So we ask …
For a perceived sense of security, what do we give up?
The first is our right to privacy, our ability to move around freely without government agencies monitoring where you go and who you go with, followed by our right to due process. The historically disproportionate targeting of people of color by law enforcement has long been a problem. In this newly guarded environment, would our brothers and sisters retain their rights to a fair and free trial? And their innocence until proven guilty? Or will this surveillance provide the flawed legal system with a new way to enslave our people?
And let’s not forget information security. Are we preparing our community for new threats through hacking? The prevalence of ransomware and security breaches is on the rise, and this costly barrier is cause for concern.
Then, we must consider the transparency within the Police. Who will watch them? Would the images protect them but would they incriminate us? And would the police have an unfair influence on the use of surveillance footage?
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What is the real cost?
Initial cost estimates are over $ 3 million. A price tag that does not take into account normal wear and tear or replacement costs due to vandalism. As described, the system would employ staff who also bear a tax burden for salaries and training to ensure the integrity of that staff. Who will bear such a cost? York taxpayers already stressed?
What is the advantage?
A perceived level of protection against those who commit crimes without regard for innocent bystanders. The ability of law enforcement to close cases without the testimony of a member of the community. A higher elimination rate for non-fatal shootings and an increased ability to assist in crimes not involving gun violence, such as kidnappings and terrorist threats.
But the reality is that these advantages are largely theoretical. For a case study on implementing surveillance cameras, we can turn to Baltimore, Maryland. Although Baltimore is a much larger city, it also faces the challenges of gun violence and has invested in surveillance cameras for its community. In 1996, when its system of more than 700 cameras was launched, the homicide closure rate was around 30%, with a total of 329 homicides. In 2019, the homicide closure rate in Baltimore was 32%, with a total of 348 homicides, leaving 247 murders unsolved, according to The Baltimore Sun.
Surveillance cameras are not the solution.
History proves that those who wish to commit criminal acts have and will continue to evolve with the system. They will continue to avoid law enforcement and will continue to take different avenues to escape capture. We have to find another answer.
The presence of surveillance cameras will cause a surprising change in the character of ordinary citizens who frequent York’s public spaces. Citizens under surveillance can become hyper-aware of their actions and less free. About how you dress, who they befriend, and even what they read or write.
The citizens who are likely to feel the expected level of security resulting from surveillance cameras are the very people this system seeks to protect, White America. It’s time to protect our black and brown brothers and sisters. We need it more than ever.
What other solutions do we have?
From the Prevention Institute:
1. Public health solutions: Recognize gun violence as a critical and preventable public health problem.
2. Comprehensive Solutions: Support community planning and implement comprehensive community safety plans that include prevention and response.
3. Trauma, Connection and Services: Expanding access to high quality, culturally competent, coordinated, social, emotional and mental health supports and addressing the impact of trauma.
4. Health system: Establish a comprehensive health system in which the prevention of violence is a responsibility and imperative of the health system.
5. Community healing: Prevent community trauma.
6. Mental health and well-being: investing in communities to promote resilience, mental health and well-being.
7. Support healthy norms on masculinity: Explore the pathways between gun violence and the nefarious norms that have consisted of maintaining power and privilege.
8. Impulsive Anger: Explore the links between anger and gun violence.
9. Economic Development: Reduce concentrated disadvantages and invest in employment opportunities.
10. Law Enforcement Violence: Establish accountability for sworn officers and private security.
11. Technology: Advanced gun safety and self-defense technology.
What can our community do?
The child who does not feel the warmth of his community will burn it. – African proverb.
Have we become so numb to violence when it’s not on our doorstep that our only response is to shake our heads and complain on Facebook without any real action to end it?
We need active community members to come together and do what is uncomfortable to bring comfort to those who have never felt the warmth of their city, town or people.
The York branch of the NAACP also has work to do. We need to connect better with our community, and under my leadership we are making a renewed commitment to the York community. It is our sole responsibility. We will continue to connect with community leaders and organizations, as well as law enforcement, to strengthen our community today and create better days tomorrow.
Gun violence is no problem to keep sweeping under the rug or putting on punitive bandages. We need proactive and decisive action. We are all affected by violence in our community, but we are also responsible for it.
We are the change we were looking for, but we must work TOGETHER and act. Surveillance cameras are not the answer to our problems.
Together we are the solution.
Richard Craighead is president of the NAACP in York.