The city of Oakland, CA continues to push ahead with surveillance programs and new laws in what increasingly appears to be a practice run for a police state. On Wednesday, the city council unanimously approved a plan for a new surveillance center that, according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle, would allow police and city officials to continuously monitor video cameras, gunshot detectors and license plate readers. The city will accept a federal grant of $2.2 million to help pay for the project – meaning that American taxpayers, once again, financing a facility designed to spy on American taxpayers.
The Chronicle report goes on to say that the new surveillance center, ominously named the Domain Awareness Center, will eventually consist of a vast network, linking traffic and surveillance cameras to police and fire dispatch systems. It will also be integrated with Twitter feeds, crime maps, microphones and alarm systems. Renee Domingo, director of Oakland’s emergency services, said “The most important purpose of the center is to save lives by coordinating real-time information.” The new surveillance center is slated to be operational by July 2014.
Many Oakland residents are furious. One opponent of the project, 20-year-old Mark Raymond, said “The Domain Awareness Center is the guard tower which will watch over every person in the city of Oakland. This program is an attempt to criminalize and imprison all people who live and pass through Oakland.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sent a letter to the council, urging them not to approve the project. In the letter, Linda Lye wrote “The privacy implications are vast…Surveillance technology of the sort contemplated by the DAC enables law enforcement to capture intimate details of an individual’s life, including ‘trips to the psychiatrist, plastic surgeon, the abortion clinic, the AIDS treatment center, the strip club, the criminal defense attorney, the hour-by-hour motel, the union meeting, the mosque, the synagogue or church, the gay bar and on and on.’”
In addition, the Oakland city council has voted to ban “impact-resistant shields, aerosol spray cans, pressurized paint sprayers, sling shots, hammers, large wrenches for opening fire hydrants, fireworks, paint projectiles or fire accelerants” at protests. The ban criminalizes the possession of these items, even if they are not being used during a protest. The measure follows demonstrations and riots that followed the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The demonstrations were marked by widespread violence and vandalism by protesters angry at the verdict. In one incident, a restaurant worker was struck in the face with a hammer. Despite this, laws which are designed to transform any popular demonstration into a mere crowd of completely defenseless and unarmed citizens should be viewed with suspicion. It is not beyond the realms of possibility to imagine that – at some point – flags and banners will also be banned, under the premise that such items could, also, be employed as weapons or ‘destructive items’.
Whilst the city struggles with rising crime and dwindling law enforcement resources, it should be of concern to the residents of Oakland that little attempt is being made to address the causes. The city’s elected leaders have, essentially, chosen to shrug off any responsibility for the city’s problems and have, instead, chosen a reactionary response. The new surveillance center and the law banning private citizens from being in possession of certain objects could be viewed as common-sense measures, designed to curb violence. On the other hand, these developments pave the way for an endless expansion of surveillance and new laws banning possession of an ever-growing list of items. Residents of Oakland would do well to consider the possibility that this signifies, in reality, a practice run for a police state.
An editorial by Graham J Noble