On Saturday, 29 April 2000, the Surveillance Camera Players (SCP) traveled from New York City to Baltimore, Maryland. On this, the SCP's third trip outside of New York City, the group visited Johns Hopkins University, at which an anarchist bookfair was held between noon and 6 pm. (The SCP's first two trips took them to Peekskill, New York, and Amsterdam, Holland, respectively.) Unlike fellow activist-artist Seth Tobocman, who accompanied the group down to Baltimore, the SCP didn't give a presentation at the bookfair. Nor did the group perform at Johns Hopkins, the campus of which isn't surveilled by video cameras. But the group did manage to get involved in the fair. As a favor to Blackout Books, which was scheduled to set up a table but had no one to staff it, the SCP filled in. As a result, the SCP was able to meet people, distribute its flyers, and have a kind of base of operations at the university.
After making contact with Claustro, a Baltimore-based situationist who the SCP had met on-line, the group departed the bookfair and headed for the Lexington Market. Located in a working-class, mostly black area on the west side of downtown, this market is heavily surveilled by cameras, most of which are mounted upon traffic lights or street lamps, typically at the intersection of two streets. Such is the case all over the city. The systematic video surveillance of public space in Baltimore is done under the rubric of traffic control, not that of social control. Unlike New York City's cameras, whose existence is not announced, the cameras in Baltimore are accompanied by large easy-to-spot signs that indicate that the area surrounding them is under constant video surveillance. Even if one misses these signs, one can't help but notice the police booths that are erected at many locations in the city, generally a short distance away from the cameras. It is in these booths that the video monitors are housed; they are easily seen (and thus videotaped) from the outside.
Standing in front of one the cameras monitoring the Lexington Market, and handing out a flyer designed for the occasion, the SCP performed You are being watched for your own safety, a revised, less NYC-centric version of Headline News, and a brand-new play entitled We know you are watching: mind your own business. (Consisting of just two boards, the new play shows a surveillance camera getting smashed by a hammer.) Though it went on without a hitch, this series of performances had little effect on the goings-on surrounding it. The group managed to give out only a few of its flyers, got into only a handful of interesting discussions with the locals, and was totally ignored by the Baltimore Police Department. Perhaps spoiled by all the attention it receives in New York, the group was a little disappointed by this non-response.
Back at the bookfair, the SCP circulated word that it wished to perform again and with the participation of anyone who was interested. About eight people, all of them young and dressed like anarcho-punks, answered the call. With Claustro, Seth and the young punks in tow, the group once again set out, this time for a yuppie area on Charles Street. As before, the group performed You are being watched, Headline News, and We know you are watching: mind your own business. Thanks to the energy and enthusiasm of the young punks, the performances were a great deal of fun, though, once again, they failed to have much of an impact. In one very telling moment, a police car rolled right by the SCP. The officers inside were clearly more interested in pursuing and overtaking a car than they were in whatever the SCP was doing. Why? Racial profiling. All of the occupants of the car were "black" (African-Americans), while all of the members of the SCP were "white" (ex-Europeans). In the eyes of the police, whatever the SCP was actually doing out there on the street, it was trivial compared to what the people in the car might have done or were then doing. Though familiar to the SCP, this realization was troubling. Despite being illegal, racial profiling among law enforcement officers is evidently very common.
Postscript: inspired by both Seth's art and his anarchist politics, the SCP added two boards to Headline News that are directly based on his work, in particular, on the comics contained in You Dont Have To Fuck People Over To Survive. One board, headlined NATIONAL NEWS, shows a person locked up in a jail cell and is based on Seth's depiction of Mumia Abu Jamal. The other board, headlined LOCAL NEWS, shows policemen standing behind a barricade. Added as replacements for the old boards, which were too specific to New York to be shown outside the city, the new boards are among the best-drawn boards the SCP has ever used. Inspired by the groups strong interest in his work, as well as by the SCP's politics, Seth has indicated his desire to create a whole new play for the group, which is, of course, thrilled at the prospect.
Contact the Surveillance Camera Players
By e-mail e-mail:notbored@NOSPAMoptonline.net
By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998