Since George Orwell wrote the book 1984, the term "Big Brother is watching" has been commonplace in the American lexicon. It was normally spoken as a warning of the days to come. Well people, those days are here with a vengeance. I have been all across this nation. Almost all major cities, all except for Miami. (I've only gotten as close as Ft. Lauderdale). And now in many of them they have red light cameras. In my current city of residence Phoenix, Arizona, they also have cameras to catch you speeding. All of this has made for a formidable journey on our roads. For those of you who are blessed to live in a city without any of these cameras, let me be the one to prepare you for what's probably coming to an intersection, or roadway near you.
It all began sometime back in the 90's. (Sounds like such a long time ago). I lived in Los Angeles back in 1996 and 97. At the corner of Desoto Avenue and Roscoe Boulevard there was this contraption that sat right next to the bus stop. I had absolutely no clue what the hell this thing was. I consider myself a pretty intelligent person, so I came up with what I thought to be a reasonable explanation for what I saw. "This is obviously a means by which the bus can change the light so that it can breeze through intersections". It was a plausable explanation, I had just moved back to L.A. from Chicago, and the newest rave in the suburbs of Chicago was that all emergency vehicles could change the light to green so as to minimize the possibility of a collision as they came through the intersection. Brilliant. Well in the city that invented, patented, and perfected the art of the traffic jam, I thought it was great that L.A. had found a way to at least keep public transportation moving. Plus given that back then I actually rode the bus at times, that would only mean that my time spent on the bus would be lessened.
But as I traveled throghout the city, I began to see this contraption more and more. And not always next to bus stops. And then the moment of despair, I saw a sign that indicated that the intersection was photo enforced for red light violations. And the fine was $280. Damn! They weren't playing at all. So now the cops don't have to actually be there to catch you making a quick dash through a yellow that quickly turned red on you, they have a camera that catches your moment of weakness. And the penalty was ungodly in my opinion. I had no idea that this was just a first in what the police would use in combat against those who broke even the slightest of laws.
In late 96 and early 97, I spent some time in Phoenix, Arizona. The city of Tempe, a suburb most known for being the home of Arizona State University, devised a program to combat speeders. The police department took an innocuous white minivan, and parked it on the side of the road. unbeknownst to the passing motorists, this van was equipped with a radar gun, and a camera to snap pictures of both the driver and license plate of any vehicle caught speeding. I heard about this during a local news program, and almost choked. This was patently unfair. What happened to having to look out for motorcycle cops wedged in between two parked cars? Or a squad car conveniently positioned behind a high bush? This pushed entrapment to the extreme in my opinion.
Fast forward, oh maybe 7 years. I began to come out to Phoenix on a semi-regular basis. Of course I'd continue to see the vans on the side of the road. Unfortunately, many more cities throughout the Phoenix area had caught on to this new racket. However, there was a new one. On the 101 freeway, the road was now equipped with cameras that would catch you speeding. This was crap. I mean, yeah, I know that speeding is a crime. I know its not something that we should be doing, but we all do it. And for them to post a camera on the freeway was wholly different from them posting it on the streets. I understand that on the streets we're talking about a more confined space that includes other motorists, and pedestrians. But the freeways were off limits in my opinion. If the speed limit is 65, and I don't have somebody in front of me, and I decide to go say 75, what's the big deal. If there's a highway trooper that catches me, so be it. How fair is it though that the camera catches me? How much more danger am I placing myself or other motorists in by going 75? Actually in my many miles of travel, I've actually come to the conclusion that you have greater attention and care at higher speeds than you do at lower speeds. When you're going, say 80 in a 65, you're much more likely to be checking for police, road hazards, and other drivers that may get in your way. If you're only doing 65 in that very same 65 mph zone, a lot of people put the car, and subsequently their brains, on cruise control. I would bet money that there are just as many accidents caused by people going the speed limit as there are by people speeding. I tried to do a little research, but I was unable to find any specific statistics to neither prove or disprove my theory. They must keep that information under wraps. (If John Stossel ever reads this, you are more than welcome to use this as an inspiration for your next issue of "Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity").
On the other hand, there are individuals who push things to the limit, and make it bad for the rest of us. I mean, I'm no stickler when it comes to speeding, but going 114 in a 65 is well over the top. That was the case on January 21, 2008 when rapper DMX was caught speeding in his 1966 Nova by the before mentioned cameras on the 101 freeway in Scottsdale, AZ. DMX, or Earl Simmons as his government name, was arrested for criminal speeding (anything 25 mph or more over the speed limit), public endangerment, reckless driving, and driving on a suspended license. I would love to defend a hip-hop titan, but in this case I can not. This latest run in with the law by DMX was definitely of his own doing. And not that I want them to throw the book at him, but I have to admit that he deserves whatever he gets.
(DMX's photo being taken on the 101 in Scottsdale, AZ).
The last thing I want to discuss in the area of "Big Brother is Watching" are what I will call community policing cameras. These cameras hit the scene in Chicago a couple of years ago. They have blue lights that flash constantly, and can be seen from a mile away. (Probably further than that). I have also seen these cameras in use in Philadelphia. As my brother discussed in an earlier blog, these cameras are used as a deterrant for illegal activity. They have a range of several blocks, but its amazing that it seems like the negative element of the neighborhood doesn't seem to be very far from the cameras. I guess that as long as you're out of the direct view of the camera, there's really no reason to actually cease your potentially illegal activity. These cameras don't trouble me as much as the others. I don't hang out on street corners, and I guess that if they're somewhat of a deterrent, then by all means use them. Those flashing lights can be annoying though. And of course there's a slippery slope effect. I mean, depending on the camera placement, can the police have access to view what may be going on inside a person's home? That I can say I will never be in support of, but for the moment I can give community policing cameras a pass.
As I said before, right now, there's really no way to know where we'll end up when it comes to Big Brother watching us. In London, England, they have 10,000 closed circuit cameras throughout the city. I can't remember the exact statistic, but your picture is taken something like 10-20 times per minute. (Forgive me if you find the exact statistic and I'm slightly off). In the case of the bombings of July 7th, 2005, the cameras helped Scotland Yard discover the identities of the bombers. So there are very good uses of cameras in our society. I just hope that we're not giving up more in privacy than we get in safety.