Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Surveillance State Exists To Destroy The Lives Of The Poor

prospect |  During the last two decades, policing has become synonymous with surveillance: the intense scrutiny of persons in public spaces. Poverty and the symptoms of drug addiction signify criminality to the police in ways similar to race. This surveillance targets the most vulnerable people in American society: people of color and poor whites. L. experienced a form of social oppression well known to people of color, targeted because their presence is considered a threat to others, because of their appearance, race, or presence in certain public spaces. 

Mass incarceration in the U.S., is largely thought of as a problem for black and brown communities. But this characterization risks masking the pervasive injustice that befalls others who live in and around those communities. The threat of surveillance has fallen disproportionately on African Americans and Latinos for decades. But during the era of mass incarceration, surveillance has increasingly become further disconnected from any legitimate suspicion of criminal behavior.  

The new approach makes surveillance seem like a primary responsibility of government. But this purported governmental “responsibility” (which does not appear in the Constitution) is rapidly overtaking the right to be free from surveillance, a protection that the Fourth Amendment to the Bill of Rights guarantees. 

We live in a country where the poor are often presumed guilty, since they have failed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. This “failure” has profound consequences. As Barton Gellman and Sam Adler-Bell, a senior fellow and senior policy advocate at the Century Foundation, noted in the 2017 Century Foundation report, “The Disparate Impact of Surveillance,” the gaze of the state is “heaviest in communities already disadvantaged by their poverty, race, religion, ethnicity, and immigration status.”