Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tenderloin Webcams and the Growing Threat of Surveillance Culture in San Francisco

Recently, there has been a buzz in San Francisco about the guy who set up his two video cameras to film a span of Tenderloin street downstairs from his apartment. Complete with microphone to record the audio of "street sounds", Adam Jackson created a website,, which aired the 24 hour live streams of Taylor St. captured from these cameras, as well as message boards where people could discuss what they saw.

Due to the controversy and harassment that Jackson faced as a result, he has since stepped away from this little project, but a fire has been set under Big Brother's ass.

You can read about it here.

So, this white guy moves into the Tenderloin - a neighborhood historically notorious for its seedy reputation and high population of homeless - and decides that he will use his video camera and computer to create a website with the intention of making "his" neighborhood quieter and safer. He, and all the other self-appointed "guardians of the streets", use the footage to narc on other people in the neighborhood with a self-righteous vengeance.

This strategy of neighborhood watch is dangerously divisive (not to mention rude and invasive), especially in a volatile neighborhood such as the Tenderloin, where poverty and crime are magnified due to a more visible presence of poor people on the streets. The fact that the police are in support of Adam Jackson and his idea should be of great concern to anyone who is against the invasive techniques of surveillance culture.

The conditions of the Tenderloin itself are a striking testimony to the oppressive, ineffective ways that many urban cities deals with issues rooted in poverty, such as homelessness, substance use, and sex work. Similar to the situation I observed in Skid Row when I lived in downtown Los Angeles, the Tenderloin is where San Francisco's
'undesirables' are given just a little bit more wiggle room to get away with certain crimes of survival. It is the city's way of keeping above-ground poverty in a more centralized location, so that the rest of the city (the nicer neighborhoods) will be less burdened with its eye-sore. It is a consequence of criminalizing and perpetuating poverty, and only addressing the needs of the poor through band-aid, quick-fix legislations while funding for vital social services continue to get hacked.

The arguments in support of these neighborhood cameras are the same arguments that our government uses to justify this war on terror. And even if this surveillance system is initially in the hands of independent citizens, you can bet that the city, state, even federal government, will unfailingly stick its dirty paws into it when they decide the time is right.

According to the article in the SF Gate, "Jackson said at least three other sites have sprung up independently, and there has been interest in linking all of them together through It is possible that neighborhoods all over the city will have 24-hour cameras. That was Jackson's idea all along."

With the continued demonization of homeless people, "thugs" (which, to white people, often translates to: black or brown person wearing baggy pants and a hoodie. and if there's more than one of them walking together at night, you can bet this white person is about to shit themselves), sex workers, people who buy/sell/use substances, etc., the privilege of using and accessing surveillance cameras in the Tenderloin will only increase the race and class divide. The possibility of 24 hour cameras in neighborhoods all over the city hits too close to Orwellian to bode well.

Since Jackson stepped back and was taken down, this url now takes you to what may soon be Their goal is to serve as the hub for a global network of neighborhood watch webcams, stating, "We are running this in an effort to make a difference in the world." I will leave you with a disturbing excerpt from its message boards:

11:45 jen__luv: I am sorry to hear about everthing you went through.People are pathetic.
3:42 towahead: keep in going and the losers off the streets
3:45 towahead: why did you wimp out dudet
3:46 towahead: too many losers of color on there



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Anonymous said...

You are a moron.
I know you. Your some punk ass gangstalker that like to keep the loin a nightmare.
Fuck you bitch

Betcha don't post this either.

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