Birmingham’s newly purchased 1.3 million dollar surveillance technology doesn’t prevent or “solve crimes.”
It responds to crimes that have already occurred by utilizing surveillance tools that have a documented record of racist targeting and increased criminalization of Black, brown and poor communities. Surveillance technology is rooted in a racist history that began in Birmingham and cities across the country experiencing acute state violence. The long hot summer of ‘67 saw civil unrest in Birmingham as a response to police brutality and white supremacist violence. The Kerner Commission, assembled by President Lyndon Johnson to address the summer of civil unrest, determined that cities like Birmingham experiencing civil unrest needed more economic programs and support for poor and disenfranchised communities. Ignoring those urgent recommendations, the Johnson administration decided, instead, to employ Simulmatics, a type of predictive surveillance technology, in response to the safety needs of the Birmingham community and communities across the country.
The Birmingham City Council’s pivot towards surveillance technology in response to demands for safer communities is in line with the historical reliance on technological innovation to solve problems without considering the fact that, “when society defines, frames, and represents people of color as the problem, those solutions will often do more harm than good.”
City Council President Wardine Alexander was quoted in AL.com piece sharing, “People want to feel protected. They want to make sure we have all the tools necessary to solve crimes. We should be able to walk the streets of Birmingham and not feel afraid.”
It is undeniable that Birmingham communities have a right to feel safe in their communities but the safety Councilman Alexander desires for Birmingham will not be achieved through increased surveillance of already marginalized communities. An authentic crime prevention strategy is needed by Birmingham community members, including the members of the Birmingham People's Budget Coalition.
Recommendations for creating a safer Birmingham outside of the use of racist surveillance technology can be explored on the Birmingham People’s Budget website.
Photo Credit: Tobias Tullius