Robotic eyes, witness even to murder

They are everywhere, robotic eyes, aka surveillance cameras.  I mean you can’t even stop on the side of the road anymore without a camera watching you.  So we find ourselves right smack back into the issue of the subway tragedy.

David Carr in the NY Times’ “Media Decoder” blog has published a piece entitled: “Another Portrait of Imminent Death, but One Worthy of Publishing,” discussing the assassination of Brandon Lincoln Woodard on W 58th Street in NYC last week.  Mr. Woodward was seen on surveillance cameras being shot dead in cold blood.

Unlike the subway tragedy, the photographer was incapable of ethical decision as well as ethical intervention.  Surveillance cameras are meant to deter and prevent crimes.  It failed in that.  But they are also meant to record crimes; and in so doing to prevent further criminal acts.  OK, so there was no question of conscience on the part of the photographer and no question of the ethics of setting up the cameras in the first place.

So what about the decision to publish? According to Mr. Carr, Michele McNally, the assistant managing editor at The Times, who oversees photography explained that “‘The decision to publish the photo was not a close call,’ she said. ‘There is a crime being committed, there is information that could help locate the suspect, and there is other information in the photograph that when it is put out there, could be helpful in solving the crime. It was a no-brainer.’ (By contrast, she said, the Post photo left her ‘ambivalent’ and she ‘would have consulted with many,’ adding, ‘I think a lot of criticism of the picture comes from the way it was displayed in the Post, the headline and caption and the ethics of lifting a camera at that moment in time.)'”

So we tend to accept the decision to publish and publicly show this kind of surveillance imagery.  Indeed, they have become commonplace: convenience store robberies (usually ending with the intended clerk bludgeoning the robber with a baseball bat and chasing him out of the store), high speed highway chases, bank robberies, and my personal favorite, people driving into buildings.

Mr. Carr points out that being shot to death is “far less anomalous than someone being thrown in front of a subway train.”  According to the FBI in 2010, 8775 Americans were shot to death.  Most chilling was Ms. McNally’s response to Mr. Carr.s email about “photo of the shooter, she immediately replied, ‘Which one?’

This entry was posted in Reviews and Critiques.