Plutocracy Uses Technology to Clobber the Poor

Photograph Source: Mike Mozart – CC BY 2.0

Technology wielded by oligarchic government is a nightmare. From killer police dog robots to facial recognition in public housing, it’s not just the poor who are targets, it’s everybody. But the poor and the left get smacked with it the worst. It’s open season on antifa, a season inaugurated by killer Kyle Rittenhouse shooting two Black Lives Matter protestors to death, getting off scott free and becoming the darling of far-right celebrities. As for how technology crushes the poor, just take the case of 33-year-old Tania Acabou, who found herself a victim of constant surveillance in her public housing project.

Cameras bought through the department of Housing and Urban Development have been installed in public housing, supposedly to fight crime. Instead, the poor domiciled there find themselves under continuous watch. “It got to the point where it was like harassment,” Acabou told the Washington Post after being evicted from her New Bedford, Massachusetts project due to this surveillance. The Post reported May 16 that Acabou received “an eviction notice in 2021 after the housing authority…used cameras to investigate her over several months…The housing authority believed her ex was living at the house without contributing rent [he was babysitting their kids]…violating a policy that restricts overnight visitors to 21 nights per year.”

In a Steubenville, Ohio project, the Post added, “One man was filmed spitting in a hallway. A woman was recorded removing a cart from a communal laundry room. Footage in both cases was presented to a judge to help evict the residents in court.” So if you’re poor, you live under a security microscope with the excuse that it fights crime, when really it just fights you. One woman, threatened with eviction “for lending her key fob to an unauthorized guest,” explained that her declining vision necessitated a friend bringing her groceries. She was allowed to stay.

HUD used federal crime fighting grants to buy the cameras. But as anyone with a brain can deduce, this surveillance is aimed at public housing residents, not criminals. Or maybe, as far as HUD’s concerned, the residents are the criminals…While several states have limited police use of facial recognition, as the Post notes, because it produces false matches, HUD does not appear to have caught on. “In rural Scott County, Va., cameras equipped with facial recognition scan everyone who walks past them, looking for people barred from public housing,” according to the Post. “In New Bedford, Mass., software is used to search hours of recordings to find any movement near the doorways of residents suspected of violating overnight guest rules.” So if you reside in public housing or visit someone there, you are treated as a potential lawbreaker.

In Rolette, North Dakota, over 107 cameras record nearly 100 residents, as is almost the proportion, the Post notes, in New York’s Rikers Island jail. In other words, surprise! Poverty is criminalized. You can be sure no billionaire would ever tolerate this nonstop, punitive scrutiny. Nor would any government official attempt it.

But technological brutality doesn’t stop there when it comes to clobbering the poor. They get robot police dogs. “Last year, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) began leasing a canine-like robot…” Scientific American reported May 7. “Officers deployed the robot in…a hostage situation in the Bronx and an incident at a public housing building in Manhattan.” Note the locales. All very low rent. No canine robots called Spot for swankier precincts like Park or Fifth Avenues on the Upper East Side.

Though the NYPD stopped using the robot in April, “other U.S. police departments have been testing their own Spot models.” But the article’s gist is that the public does not accept and is not ready for robotic policing. Nevertheless, on May 24, the Los Angeles city council approved a $278,000 robotic dog, according to CBS. Happily, the dog is not armed, as it is merely a surveillance device. Still, one councilwoman referred to it as “depersonalized, military-style technology.” But that fits with our military-style police, who have the latest in army hardware, from tanklike vehicles to machine guns, amirite?

Meanwhile, according to Wired April 15, the NYPD flaunts more than mere robot dogs, as it tests a “Knightscope K5 robot.” What is this thing that will soon patrol city streets? “The human-sized ovoid K5 is equipped with cameras, sensors and speakers. It’s meant to patrol and surveil its surroundings, deterring break-ins and vandalism.” They also roam around Silicon Valley, “where they’ve mostly been met with mocking suspicion and drunken violence.”

Bad enough robots replace proles on the job. Now robots police ordinary people, while they live under constant digital surveillance. If this sounds like some sci-fi dystopian future to you, well, that’s because it is. And it is already here, for many poor and even middle-income people.

So far, lethal police weapons remain in human hands (where they already do plenty of damage). This is lucky, because these robots could easily be deadly machines targeting proles and their neighbors just a few steps down the social ladder, the homeless destitute. Why just these low-income people? Well, what else would you expect in a country that, faced with a massively indebted population, proposes that those so impoverished they depend on the government to eat, should work for their food stamps, rather than raising taxes on the obscenely rich? The rightwing itch to bring back the horrors of the workhouse grows stronger with each passing year. We’ve already got vigorous young fascist governors signing laws to permit children to moil in slaughterhouses, where you can be sure they’re lucky if they even earn minimum wage.

GOP House speaker Kevin McCarthy wants to make the Trump tax cuts for the wealthy permanent, while shrinking low-income housing, food subsidies, child care, and Head Start. The SNAP changes are dreadful. They extend work requirements to people without children between ages 50 and 54. Previously, the 20-hour per week work requirement to receive SNAP ended at age 50. “In reality,” as Max Bruenig of the Peoples Policy Project tweeted May 27, “this is just an indiscriminate cull of a bunch of 50 to 54 year olds from SNAP who won’t realize there are any new forms they need to fill out.” So this aging cohort of proles better get ready to lose weight. The congressional GOP is fine with them starving.

There was even talk of making Medicaid recipients work for those doctors’ appointments. That’s because we live in an oligarchy. The richest ten percent own congress, in fact, numerous legislators are multimillionaires. They have no sympathy for the penniless. Rather, they exhibit hatred. They prefer to wage class war on the poor rather than give up a single dollar to ameliorate the lives of the wretchedly dispossessed.

No wonder we’ve got robot police dogs. The only question is, when will our rulers roll out robot police?

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Busybody. She can be reached at her website.