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Blue Light Special

Life in a City Under Surveillance

Photos by Frank Klein
Greenmount and 28th Street
"I think [the camera is] good," Shionta Williams, 13, says. "I'm not doing anything wrong, so I'm not worried about them."
"If they put them here, they should put them everywhere," argues Bonnie, 45. "Why do they have to be here in this neighborhood? What's that about?"
Camera at Pennsylvania and North avenues
"They ain't doing nothing for nobody," says Alexander Ellis, 39. "They're just there to lock black people up for drinking beer."
Camera at Saratoga Street and Park Avenue

By Stephen Janis | Posted 8/17/2005

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Early the next morning, as the corner of Saratoga Street and Park Avenue comes alive, the bustle of activity from the scent shops and candle stores is monitored by eight separate cameras pointed in every possible direction.

"They ain't doing nothing for nobody," says Alexander Ellis, 39 (pictured above). "They're just there to lock black people up for drinking beer."

Ellis says he's had firsthand experience with the cameras. "A Puerto Rican guy fingered me for robbing him on my way home form work on Memorial Day--right here on the corner, waiting for the bus," Ellis says. "I told the cops, 'Check the camera, because I didn't do it.' But they told me they didn't give a fuck about the cameras and locked me up for 32 days."

During his stay in jail, Ellis says he lost his job as a dishwasher at the Radisson hotel on West Baltimore Street and ended up homeless. And, although all charges were later dropped, the damage had been done. "Those things ruined my life," Ellis says.

Now, he says, the cameras are being used to harass him. "A few days ago the cops rolled up when I was smoking a rolly"--a hand-rolled cigarette--"'cause they saw me on the camera," Ellis says. "I said, 'It's just a cigarette,' and they left."

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