“Cameras everywhere”: Surveillance for social justice?

It sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it? A paranoid,”homeland security” on steroids vision of total control? But Cameras everywhere did not come not from a law enforcement announcement. (Remember when Austin Police Department Chief Acevedo proposed that the answer to hate crimes against queer people was video cameras on every corner?) Cameras Everywhere was actually an initiative of the human rights organization Witness, the motto of which is: See It. Film It. Change It.

Witness does recognize that ethical issues present a “key challenge”; see this important article by Sam Gregory, “Cameras Everywhere: Ubiquitous Video Documentation of Human Rights, New Forms of Video Advocacy, and Considerations of Safety, Security, Dignity and Consent” at the Journal of Human Rights Practice, Vol. 2, Issue 2. (2010), 191-207, first published online May 21, 2010.

On the one hand, it’s important to document human rights abuses. George Holliday did when he came across LA police beating Rodney King in March of 1991; and last week videographers caught NY police pepper spraying protesters on Wall Stree (sorry about the advertisement preceding the video). See also this video of police abuse in Puerto Rico, posted on the Witness blog only a couple of weeks ago, on September 19.

But cameras everywhere? Really?

The roommate of Tyler Clementi videotaped and then broadcast Clementi in an intimate moment in his bedroom. Clementi, feeling humiliated, killed himself.

Granted, there are differences between public actors/government employees and private individuals; public streets and bedrooms; between beating people up and consensual relations. It’s easy to distinguish between filming in these radically different situations at opposite ends of a spectrum. But there are lots of spaces, lots of people, and lots of behavior in the middle.

Witness recently made public its report “Current Challenges and Opportunities at the Intersection of Human Rights, video, and technology” on the “Cameras Everywhere” campaign.

The “Cameras Everywhere” campaign gets to the heart of the issues we’ve been wrestling with the last two weeks in our Listen for a change: oral history & social justice workshops: are there some stories that we shouldn’t facilitate? does the narrator get to decide what happens always, even after the fact? In what ways are “actors” different from “narrators” — and can we distinguish “good guys” from “bad guys” in human rights work? When do cameras promote human rights, and when not? Who decides?

Even though this post says “comments are closed” (an accident, I don’t know how to open or close comments!), I look forward to hearing your responses to the report — either Tuesday at 5 pm or whenever. Write to virginia@wirecuttertexas.org.

Copyright 2011 Virginia Raymond

Who is a wire cutter?

A wire cutter is a tool, but a wire cutter is also a person who resisted the fencing of the range — the claiming, by financial investors from Chicago and London — that land used by the Comanche, Apache, and Kiowa peoples, and by pastores living in what we now call New Mexico, as the land became those investors’ private property by act of the Texas Legislature.

You could say that a wirecutter is a person who resists turning common resources — such as land, water, air, and information — into private property.

You could say that a wirecutter is a person who resists the forceful and unwanted separation of people from each other, and from resources.

You could say that a wirecutter is a person who has a very, very bad reaction to barbed wire.


James Boyle, “The Second Enclosure Movement and the Construction of the Public Domain,” 66 Law & Contemp. Problems 33 (Winter/Spring 2003)

Mollie E. Moore Davis, The Wire Cutters, New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1899

Wayne Gard, “Fence Cutting,” Handbook of Texas Online

Las Gorras Blancas, Proclamation, cited in Francisco Arturo Rosales, Testimonio: a documentary history of the Mexican American struggle for civil rights, Houston: Arte Público Press, 2000, at 29, and at the website of the New Mexico Office of the State Historian

Photos from our first oral history & social justice workshop

Erica Suprenant and Diana Claitor of the Texas Jail Project; Ayla Pintchovski and Rocío Villalobos; and Luz Guerra, Rebekah Skelton, and Stephanie Thomas on 20 September, 2011, at the first Listen for a change: oral history & social justice workshop.

Copyright 2011 Virginia Raymond
Photographs used with permission of those pictured