Saturday, October 30, 2004

In The Hat has a surprising number of UK readers so this next item won't be much of a revelatioin to them. With money provided by the Hollywood Entertainment District, the LAPD will be installing 64 video cameras in certain crime-riddled sections of Hollywood.

Civil libertarians are disturbed. As they should be.

Video monitoring was hugely successful in lowering the crime rate in MacArthur Park this year. When the cameras went up, the drug dealers, hookers, scam artists and gangsters un-assed and found other areas to torment the citizens. The city is hoping for the same result in Hollywood.

The ACLU's reaction was weirdly schizoid. As reported in the LAT, Ramona Ripston, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, was okay with the cameras in MacArthur Park, but called the cameras on Hollywood streets, "creeping, Big Brotherism." Of the cameras in the park she said, "This was a park that families couldn't use because of the pimps, the drug dealers. In that particular situation, we felt maybe the public safety issue did win out." On the public streets, however, she said, "the Police Department shouldn't be able to monitor everybody's comings and goings."

This is an intellectually indefensible argument. Not to mention stupid. The park is no less public than the street. And isn't it just as likely that families can't use the streets of Hollywood because of the dealers and gangsters? If she had the courage of her convictions, she would oppose cameras at both locations. A public space is a public space. If you're going to espouse certain principles, stick to them. This is one of the problems with the causes the ACLU decides to adopt. They seem to be motivated more by politics than principles. In New York, they forced the school system to provide special rooms for Muslim students to pray. The same organization is suing LA to remove the crucifix from the mission church pictured on the City's seal. If it were operating on pure principle, the ACLU would sue to ban all prayer in schools everywhere. Then they wouldn't appear to be schizophrenic when it comes to the cross on the LA seal.

An equally strange response on the camera issue came from Jan "Ban the Fast Food" Perry. In a famous example of prying into the lives of private citizens, she got city money to "study" the health effects of fast food on her constituents. She felt that it was the city's job to examine, comment and maybe even pass laws that would regulate the fat and carb content of the food her constituents eat. What she was advocating was, essentially, restraint of trade by trying to limit the number of fast food outlets in her district. But of the cameras she wants in her part of town, "I think it's great," she says. Maybe her ultimate agenda is to be the town busybody -- catch people eating burgers and fries on camera and send a sternly worded note to their doctors.

And then of course, there's the racial aspect. There's always a racial aspect in LA, isn't there? MacArthur Park is overwhelmingly Hispanic. Jan Perry's district is largely Black and Hispanic. Couldn't the argument be made that the cameras are singling out and targeting minorities? Racial activists are always complaining that their neighborhoods have too big a police presence anyway. Now they'll have a lot of cops and a lot of eyes on the lamposts. Just think of the word fest Mike Davis would have on this issue. It might go something like this. "What Daryl Gates' armored cars and stick-wielding, helmeted Panzergrenadiers couldn't accomplish will now be executed with the brutal efficiency of an electronic distant early warning system poised to suppress the first inkling of any popular resistance to a white oligarchy that is toxic not just to the citizens it suppresses but to the very alluvial and earthquake wracked soil it claims as its birthright." I just saved you the $25 bucks you were going to spend o his new book.

Ripston's argument is correct. This is creeping Big Brotherism. She should demand the cameras in MacArthur Park be taken down and the ones in Hollywood be stopped from going up. She should demand that crime be stopped the old fashioned way. Cops on the beat.

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