Police Surveillance: Baltimore to Palestine

Occupation with technology:

Streets throughout East and West Baltimore are lit by flashing blue lights marking street cameras of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD). Designated as “high crime areas,” these neighborhoods have been racially and economically segregated for decades.

These cameras are part of the Citiwatch CCTV network in Baltimore and have allowed the criminalization of blackness to be modernized. These cameras were developed by an Israeli manufacturer and tested on the Apartheid wall and used to maintain the Occupation.

American police departments work closely with the Israeli Military and contractors, sharing tools and techniques of oppression. We buy cameras from Israeli contractors, send our police there for training, and sell them tear gas made by Combined Systems in Pennsylvania.

Now a decade old, the Citiwatch camera network supports and exemplifies racialized policing in Baltimore. Like many other city programs, it is structured to impact different neighborhoods in different ways. They lack transparency, prioritize property over lives, were developed in partnership with the city’s powerful private institutions (notably Johns Hopkins).

The CityWatch program was contracted to NICE in 2005 under Martin O’Malley as part of the Zero Tolerance campaign. An effort that increased militarization of the BPD and further criminalized poverty and blackness. In 2007 the contract was changed to DVTel (a subsidiary of Flir Systems) to expand the cameras over a wireless network.

Both Israeli, NICE and DVTel have a history of developing technology used to suppress marginalized communities. NICE, one of three of Israel’s biggest high tech companies was a contractor in the NSA’s wiretapping program.

DVTel has its corporate office in New Jersey, but has an executive board made up of retired Israeli military leader. Their research facility is based in Kafr Qasem, a small Palestinian town that lost much of its population during the Nakba (ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948-49). DVTel partners with Senstar and El-Far for border security. Senstar is a subsidary of Magal, whose CEO was the former head of the Shin Bet (Israeli Secret Police), and installed 80% of the detection systems in the apartheid wall. Magal also supplies CCTV cameras for the illegal Israeli settlements, Ariel, Alfei Menashe, Karnei Shomron, Shilo, Geva Binyamin (Adam), Tzofim, Shaked and Giva’at Ze’ev. El-Far was founded by retired Israeli Military and maintains security technology for a section of the wall around Gaza, in settlements, and the separation wall.

Despite Israel’s small size, Israeli military contractors lead the global market in surveillance technology. The walls that fence in Gaza and cut apart the West Bank are used as testing grounds for developing the most advanced unmanned and automatic technologies — that is then sold abroad as “battle tested.”

In the decade since September 11th, 2001 Israel has seen an exponential rise in security partnerships, from $2 billion to $7 billion. In 1982 Israel was the first to use drones in war.

Not only are communities of color in Palestine and Baltimore controlled in the same way, but using the very same technology. Rania Khalek lays out in great detail the extent of training police departments had in Israel before participating in the repression of protests following the murder of Mike Brown and Freddie Gray.

What to the Cameras do?

There has not been any statistical government or private investigations on how the cameras are used that measured their impact. However, first hand accounts point towards how the cameras protect the police and target black communities. The retired Baltimore Cop Michael Woods tweeted last June that: “CCTV cameras turning as soon as a suspect is close to caught.” The inclusion of the Hopkins camera network in the Citiwatch program in 2014 in particular has likely allowed the enforcement of the rapid gentrification of the neighborhood surrounding the Hospital in East Baltimore. The Citiwatch cameras also threaten free speech and target protesters, with the City saving all the footage from the Uprising last April.

One of the few reports on the cameras was made by their manufacturer, DVTel. That report is full of poorly supported successes, and goes so far as to claims that the cameras have played a part to reduce “false claims of police brutality”! Despite that nearly all reports of Police brutality go uninvestigated.

The report also claims that the City of Baltimore has reduced its crime rate up to 20 percent since partnering with DVtel. Yet, FBI crime statistics show a matching nationwide decrease in violent crime, from 2005 to 2011 by 17.6% and 20% in homocides over the same period of time.

So what has been the impact of the Citiwatch?

Staffing the live feeds are 12 retired cops staff the Citiwatch hub. Who watch all of the feeds, aided by behavior analytics used in the Apartheid Wall in Palestine.

The Baltimore Police Department suffers from endemic racial profiling and lack of self-accountability. Without transparency, the Citiwatch footage can be used only when it serves the interest of the BPD, officers, and the Fraternal Order of the Police. An organization that is fighting police reform and to take the teeth out of the new Body Camera Policy.

While presented as harmless and a protection for the community, Citiwatch is a part of how the BPD policies black and brown communities in the city. As one of the cities with the largest CCTV network, Baltimore is being advertised by DVTel as the “smartest city in America.”

 

Baltimore Palestine Solidarity is committed to an investigation of the technological tools for racial profiling and displacement from Baltimore to Palestine. American and Israeli security agencies collaborate extensively on the development of technology that suppresses communities they consider a threat and undesirable. The Citiwatch CCTV network in Baltimore is an Israeli technology, which is significant because of the similarities between colonization of Palestine and criminalization of Blackness in Baltimore.

 

Action:

Baltimore Palestine Solidarity members are coordinating a listening campaign to learn about the impact of surveillance from the community. After collecting testimonies from residents and interviews with members of the judicial system we will design a campaign that effectively pushes back against the police state in Baltimore and against the Occupation of Palestine.

To participate in the listening campaign contact us at: baltimorepalestinesolidarity@gmail.com

 

PDF of flyer: citiwatch info sheet

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