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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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Perhaps the strangest of all the new wired crime-prevention amenities isn't a camera at all, but the police department's own artificial version of the midnight sun.

On the corner of Barclay and 23rd streets, and in several other neighborhoods around the city, generator-powered floodlights sprout like aluminum sequoias, towering over the tops of abandoned rowhouses. Unlike the flashing cameras down the street, the light fixtures stand dormant during the daylight hours, springing to life at night with a prison-yard-bright flood of photons that keeps the street awash with light and the residents awake.

"It's a whole lot of damn noise, all night long," says a woman who gives her name as Mary, sitting in a chair outside her Barclay Street apartment, referring to the generators. "I don't know why they got them here."

"Those light don't do anything for this neighborhood, besides hurting property values," says Kevin Davis, 41, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1974. "The police just put them there and left and didn't say anything to us. Now people can't sleep, the lights are so bright. I don't know what they were thinking--this is a safe neighborhood."

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