A criminal court judge struck a victory for civil rights yesterday when he ruled that the NYPD improperly viewed images on a suspect’s cell phone without first obtaining a warrant. Photographs and videos stored on the cell phone camera of a man charged with groping a woman on a subway were excluded by Judge Anthony Ferrara in a written decision issued yesterday. I haven’t read the decision, but I find it interesting that it was released several days after a plan to flood downtown Manhattan with massive numbers of surveillance cameras was revealed to the public.
While one has (in theory) the constitutional right to be secure in one’s person and things from warrantless search or seizure, the Courts have ruled that there is no expectation of privacy when one is traversing public streets. Anything you do on those streets can be videotaped and used against you in any subsequent criminal prosecution. Of course if you are looking for that camera footage to exculpate a client or bolster an alibi, good luck. The NYPD usually refuses to release that information without a subpoena, and even then evidence has a mysterious way of disappearing inside the monolithic One Police Plaza.
In a somewhat related matter, I was watching a documentary the other night called Commune. With the slogan “Free Land for Free People,” the founders of the Black Bear Commune in Northern California cajoled money from rock stars and movie idols (James Coburn was a big contributor) and bought a rural, abandoned gold mine in Siskiyou County where they set about creating a utopian community.
Of course the group soon discovered that although they all agreed that American society, mired in materialism and consumerism was toxic, each person had a totally different idea of what utopia might look like. Despite some very rocky years Black Bear flourished and is still in existence.
I was watching this movie against the background of a lot of recent thinking about how it is possible to raise a child with values in a society that has completely abandoned the very principles upon which it was founded. The paranoia that has crept across this country since 911 is something that I never thought I would see. Fascist governments everywhere quickly learn the lesson that people who are afraid become docile and are easily manipulated. The government has become quite adept at keeping the citizenry in a constant low grade state of fear. When the people are afraid they are a lot more likely to accept surveillance cameras, not to mention the disappearance of their civil liberties.
So to have a child to whom the post 911 mindset seems normal is an odd thing. My first thought is to find my own Black Bear Commune and wait until the shit storm blows over before he internalizes all of the negativity. But the government is distrustful of communes because there are no televisions there. No easy answers.