CCTV watches (and catches) the watchman

surveillance can be a weapon of the weak and perhaps right wrongs committed by representatives of the state…

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.