Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Can Extreme Surveillance Keep Us Safe?

Eridiana Rodriguez vanished during her shift cleaning the office building at 2 Rector Street in Lower Manhattan's Financial District on Tuesday night, July 7. After four days, one hundred police scoured the building and discovered the body of this mother of three the following Saturday, bound with tape and stuffed into an air duct on the 12th floor, which was under construction and had restricted access.

Liberty Beat's guest contributor, Amanda Masters Ehrenberg, who works in this heavily-monitored NYC district, reflects on the meaning of surveillance and the overwhelming presence of armed guards in her city. Amanda originally posted these comments to the listserv of the National Police Accountability Project, a project of the National Lawyers Guild, as she is a member of the New York City Policing Roundtable.
Police surveillance around the office where I now work is intense.

We're by the WTC site and the stock exchange and every day there are huge police vehicles, officers strapping large rifles convening along the streets, some streets closed to cars, and what appear to be cameras atop intersections, etc. I grew up on military bases but have never been around so much visible weaponry so consistently, and its quite a depressing little walk from the subway stop.

Walking to the building today looking up at cameras and passing the usual officers, I could not help but think about about the brazen murder of Eridania Rodriguez, a worker in the building next door to us at 2 Rector Street.

Media describes the building as a place where "cameras cover every exit. Guards staff the lobby 24 hours a day. Visitors are photographed before they are allowed in. The streets outside are patrolled by a high concentration of police officers. Nearly every block in Lower Manhattan is covered by security video."

Are we really to believe that this extreme surveillance protects us from terrorists when actually it doesn't even protect us from regular old violent crime?

Ostensibly, the murderer entered and exited this building, rode the elevator, and traveled a hallway with her corpse to heft her into the vent, and no one saw it, no one recorded it. It happened at a spot we are supposed to presume to be about as secure as we've got in NYC. I don't hear anyone in the media making the link between the futility of all these cameras and surveillance and the idea that the cost to our liberty (and psyches) turning wall street into a virtually militarized zone may not be worth it.