Big Brother may start watching a lot more in the Emerald City. The Urban League has asked Seattle officials to install surveillance cameras throughout a high crime neighborhood.
James Kelly, CEO of the Urban League, says gang violence is out of control and the anti-snitching code among youth is hindering police efforts to catch the criminals. Kelly believes cameras can help, not only by deterring thugs but also by helping prosecute the criminals who continue wreaking havoc.
What’s particularly interesting is that Kelly and the Urban League have been vocal critics of the Seattle P.D. They’ve blasted the department over several recent incidents involving alleged police brutality including a case where a young jaywalker ended up getting punched in the face after pushing an officer. Kelly now wants to give that same department the power to monitor residents’ every move in the area.
Critics say it’s a band aid that would just push crime to an area not blanketed by cameras. Video surveillance has been around for a couple decades in various places. The U.K. has been the most aggressive and cameras have wide support. Then again, the Brits have never had the same concern over privacy as Americans. They don’t have a Bill of Rights guaranteeing freedom of speech and protections against unreasonable searches.
But cameras have been in many American cities for years and courts have consistently ruled that citizens do not have an expectation of privacy in public. The American Civil Liberties Union argues the cameras have a chilling effect on protected free speech believing people may not lawfully gather for protest or other legal activities if they know they’ll be under video surveillance. Again, the courts have rejected that argument saying the cameras are fine so long as they’re not recording and saving audio.
As for residents in the Rainier Valley, an on-line poll found 72-percent support for the cameras. Locals believe city leaders have been ignoring the problems in South Seattle for a long time.
City officials would not comment about the request for cameras. The mayor’s office only said it wanted to hear more from the community. The police department declined our repeated request for an interview. So it’s hard to say if the idea is getting any traction. One thing is clear, the problems in the Rainier Valley are not going away on their own. In recent weeks several teenagers have been shot. One incident was particularly shocking. It involved a 10-year old shooting a 12-year old at a bus stop.
Are the city leaders and police paying attention? Locals think not.