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CCTV watches (and catches) the watchman

February 11, 2009

Sometimes surveillance ends up rebounding on those who are usually on the other side of the camera. Videos from citizens can hold violent officers to account, as in the Rodney King incident. But occasionally, CCTV cameras themselves will catch a violent cop out, as is alleged to have happened in New York in the case of Officer David London’s arrest of Robert Morgenthau, a Iraq-war veteran suffering from PTSD. According to the New York Times, video footage from a CCTV system in the building where the arrest occurred shows Officer London repeatedly beating and kicking Mr Morgenthau.

Ironically, London’s lawyer claims that “oftentimes the videotape is the beginning of the story, not the end.” This isn’t usually the attitude that the police have to CCTV footage of a crime!

Now of course, this kind of thing is also sightly uncomfortable for anti-CCTV activists too. In some ways, it shows CCTV failing of course (it didn’t deter Officer London from assaulting Mr Morgenthau), but it also shows that surveillance, and not particularly countersurveillance or sousveillance just surveillance, can be a weapon of the weak and perhaps right wrongs committed by representatives of the state. We shouldn’t forget that surveillance, whether we object to it generally or in particular cases, is not always about repression; it often has caring intent and can result in the right thing being done.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 12, 2009 6:43 am

    There has been recent instances where surveillance has been used to prove a case. It’s eliminated the his word against yours factor because it’s right there with the action proven on film.

  2. David permalink
    February 12, 2009 4:28 pm

    Of course CCTV helps prove many cases. However I disagree that it has eliminated disagreement over evidence. One of the points of this story is that the police officer’s lawyer is casting doubt on what the pictures may show by pointing out that they lack what may be crucial context. He’s right, but you don’t find prosecutors or police quite so readily prepared to admit that point when they the ones are using CCTV footage as evidence.

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  1. Hoist by their own petard… « notes from the ubiquitous surveillance society

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