Surveillance cameras have become a ubiquitous feature of the New Orleans cityscape. Credit: Facebook

Why are the cameras in our neighborhoods?

Outside of policing Black and Brown bodies, we haven’t been able to figure it out. Nor have we been able to determine why one of these new “crime” cameras overlooks the Hollygrove Community Garden. There isn’t a camera outside of the semi-defunct and predominantly white Hollygrove Market and Farm, yet there is one outside of a community space primarily utilized by Black children and elders.

This sends a message to our community that the City of New Orleans and the New Orleans Police Department have profiled us as criminal. Rather than deterring crime, public officials are simply discouraging community members from engaging in communal learning and cooperative development.

There is also no proof that surveillance cameras reduce or even deter crime. Had anyone from the city done the slightest research prior to the $40 million camera installation, they would have known that surveillance cameras do not decrease crime or increase safety. Instead of permanently addressing soaring crime rates and poverty with quality education, stable living-wage employment, and affordable housing, the city has implemented a haphazard “solution”: racial profiling via crime cameras.

And, if the placement of crime cameras is not racially or economically motivated, why won’t the city make crime-camera placement public information? After all, our tax dollars help fund this nonconsensual “big brother” operation. It has become glaringly obvious that the City of New Orleans and NOPD have no intention of being accountable to their constituents—to us.

We also welcome community members to … share stories about how cameras are impacting their day-to-day lives and raise awareness about pervasive surveillance.

Youth and young adults from American Friends Service Committee’s Peace by Piece Program have decided to take matters into our own hands. Peace by Piece has launched to track the cameras using verified, crowdsourced data. This will allow youth, members of disenfranchised communities, and those who value privacy to interactively map the proliferating  surveillance cameras.

We also welcome community members to use the hashtag #StopWatchingNola and follow the Instagram account Stop.Watching.Nola to share stories about how cameras are impacting their day-to-day lives and raise awareness about pervasive surveillance.

Peace by Piece hopes that others will feel empowered to advocate for their communities and build a more sustainable future for marginalized peoples. We believe that young people, along with our communities, have the power to dismantle systems of oppression.

We are no longer willing to sit by idly as outsiders and nonprofits come into our communities to exploit, indoctrinate, and placate us. These negligent actions maintain the status quo and further disenfranchise our people, because outsiders fail to address the root causes of problems that have been thrust upon our communities.

Programming and events can only do so much; we must take agency over our bodies and our neighborhoods. Our ability to enact change begins with the belief that we can do so. Peace by Piece is inciting this systemic and interpersonal change by utilizing our three-tiered approach—programming, events, and membership. Our mission is strategic: “through education, organizing and economics to realize sustainable, sovereign and equitable Black communities.”

We are fulfilling an obligation that the city has neglected by building our own neighborhood cooperatives, creating jobs for youth and young adults, increasing food security, and learning together, utilizing popular education methods—now including notifying residents where surveillance cameras are located.

The system has failed us, but we cannot and will not fail ourselves. That is why we begin and end all Peace by Piece activities with this chant: I am Black. I am determined. I am sustainable. I am a leader. I love you. I need you to survive.

We are Black. We are determined. We are sustainable. We are leaders. We love you. We need you to survive.

Tabitha Mustafa is the founder of New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee and the Program Associate for American Friends Service Committee’s Peace by Piece program. She resides in New Orleans.

Views expressed in the Opinion section are not necessarily those of The Lens or its staff. To propose an idea for a column, contact Lens founder Karen Gadbois.