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Chicago’s Panopticon

by ANDREW FREEDMAN

As I write this here in Chicago, most stores, restaurants, and other places of business have surveillance cameras. The city offers every business three options.

Option 1: Hook up a camera and have it connected to the Police Department, so every time a customer walks in, the Police can see what they are doing. In what is probably the World’s largest reality TV program, right now Mayor Daley and members of the Chicago Police Department come to command headquarters and watch on the monitors as thousands maybe more Chicagoans shop while under surveillance. Of course none of the people on Chicago’s daily reality TV program are as entertaining as Donald Trump, Omarosa, Sam,Paris Hilton or Simon Cowell but the Chicago Police still film more people in a day then Mark Brunett or Jerry Bruckheimer.

Option 2: If a business doesn’t want to participate in hooking a camera up to police headquarters they can hook the camera up to the back of the store. The store’s security people watch a tape of everyone who comes in and if a crime is committed the tape is forwarded to the Police

Option 3: If for Civil Liberties reasons or because they feel it creates an impersonal atmosphere a business owner doesn’t want to hook up a surveillance camera, they can choose not to since it’s there property.

So while every store near my home in Chicago has surveillance cameras, some places in other parts of the city chose not to and some of the cameras don’t go directly to Police headquarters. The Chicago Police Department also has set up hidden cameras throughout the city, so citizens walking on sidewalks or driving at intersections can be routinely watched. So we are a pretty well protected city.

Despite that fact, an aldermen proposed and Mayor Daley has voiced his strong support of a new law mandating that every business in the city install a camera and hook it up to command headquarters. If any business would prefer not to have a camera or have a camera that goes to the back of the store instead,if this law passes they could have their business shut down by the city for failure to comply.

This of course means that not only would Chicago be transformed into a city, where nobody can leave their home, go to a movie, or shop without the local government being able to watch their every move on tape. But the Police can barge into any store and shut down the person’s business, if they don’t have their camera hooked up to the Police Department reality TV studio.What I find so bizarre about this proposal is that Mayor Daley and the city council by even proposing this, are behaving as if it is normal and natural in America to have millions of law-abiding citizens put under surveillance.

By forcing businesses to comply, they are acting on the assumption that in America somehow the Bill of Rights, allows a local town government to put every business owner and millions of Law abiding citizens under permanent Police surveillance. One of the big opponents of this proposal is the owner of the Heartland Café on the Northside of the city Michael James. James of course is a former member of SDS and an ex-hippie, and he has chosen unlike many other restaurant owners not to have any surveillance cameras in his restaurant.

On Civil Liberties grounds he strongly disagrees with the idea, despite the fact that after being in business for over 30 years, James himself has been the victim of theft a couple times. James was quoted in the Chicago Sun times as calling this proposal a form of Fascism.

Now while most business owners prefer some form of protection. If a business owner because of his own personal political beliefs, wants to have no surveillance cameras in his restaurant, even if most people think it’s a bad idea since it’s his business, the city shouldn’t be allowed to shut him down or force him against his will to put in the camera. It saddens me to see what our society has become. I remember when I was a kid in the 1980’s watching the TV show “Cheers”.

And while like all TV sitcoms it was fiction, it was based on real people and real places that existed at the time. While “Cheers” was based in Boston, here in Chicago and in the suburbs of Chicago, just like in that fictional Boston TV show, there were local video stores owned by an individual person who knew you by name and would let you hang out in the store and watch whatever movies you wanted. There were local bookstores owned by individual people who knew you by name and would ask about your family when you came in.

And yes just like in the TV show “Cheers”, in Chicago and in the suburbs people went to local restaurants and bars where everyone was everyone’s friend. And we all went crazy over the 1985 Bears and Cubs and Michael Jordan’s Bulls, the same way in the fictional TV show “Cheers”, the people went nuts over the Red Sox.It would’ve been hard to imagine back then Norm, and Cliff hanging out in the bar, while a camera hooked up to the Central command center watched their every move and Sam begged them not to take down the camera out of fear that the city would shut his place down for not allowing them to watch him and his patrons every move.

But what was unthinkable has become a normal idea. Because this is so obviously unacceptable so after reading this please do three things 1) Contact the Illinois ACLU at 312-201-9740 and voice your concern.2) Since I believe they are trying to duck the issue, contact the national ACLU at 212-549-2500 and tell them that the local Illinois chapter of the ACLU has not been upfront about whether they intend to fight this invasion of freedom or not. If you make enough calls to the national office in New York they will hopefully pressure the local Illinois office to take a stronger stand against the city.3) If you live in Chicago call your local aldermen as well as Congressmen or Senator and complain as well.

Also I am starting my own political newsletter if you are interested in subscribing you can get 12 issues an issue a month for $30 please send a Check or money order to ANDREW FREEDMAN P.O.Box 11815 Chicago, IL 60611-0815

 

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