City Hall

At 12:30 PM on Tuesday 29 February 2000, the Surveillance Camera Players (Susan and Bill) performed You Are Being Watched For Your Own Safety in front of surveillance cameras at City Hall in Manhattan. The installation of cameras around City Hall and in the surrounding park has just begun; it was only a few months ago that Mayor Giuliani announced that, in response to the rather slim possibility that City Hall might be a target of "terrorists," the park would be surveilled by sophisticated cameras such as one finds in Washington Square Park. (Such was also the "logic" for installing city-operated surveillance cameras in Times Square around the time of the "millennial" New Year.) Unless something is done very quickly, it will only be a matter of time before the entire City Hall area becomes totally surveilled by the police.

The SCP would have liked to have performed on the steps of the City Hall building, because a year ago Giuliani attempted to ban all protests and news conferences from them, and was ordered by a federal judge to lift the ban on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. One can protest or have a news conference on the steps today, but one has to get a permit in advance. And so the SCP, who need no permit other than the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, performed alongside City Hall, on its eastern side, near one of the gates to the area immediately in front of the building. This off-to-the-side location suited the SCP just fine, for it was, in addition to being watched by cameras and by police officers stationed at the gate, filled with both passersby and various groups waiting to have their turn on the steps of City Hall. It was to this captive audience that the SCP performed.

For a variety of reasons, the response to this performance was the warmest the SCP has ever received. A group of men and women belonging to a butchers' union cheered and sang "God Bless America" while the performance was going on, and then -- erasing any suspicion that they were only pretending to be supportive -- eagerly took, read and kept copies of the SCP's flyer, and even agreed to be interviewed after the performance was over! In the wake of the very recent acquittal of the four police officers who murdered Amadou Diallo, the Mayor and his pro-police policies are really hated by the residents of Manhattan, and City Hall has been a contested site, the location of a great many protests -- both planned and impromptu -- concerning a variety of issues. (Indeed, right before the SCP performed, a man, seeing the crowd and the police, yelled out, over and over again, and apropos of nothing at all really, "Fascist Giuliani!") Part of the appeal of the SCP's performance of You Are Being Watched For Your Own Safety clearly lay in the fact that one of its boards proclaims NO MORE RACIAL PROFILING, and thus today makes an illuminating connection -- one unintended at the time that the board was created -- between the murder of the totally innocent Diallo, who originally came to the attention of the NYPD's Street Crimes Unit because of racial profiling, and surveillance cameras. (One imagines that the response to the SCP's appearance would have been even stronger had the group performed SCP Headline News, which includes a large and wickedly funny defaced portrait of Giuliani, as well as You Are Being Watched. Another day, perhaps!)

The entire proceedings were witnessed by a reporter from The Times of London (Rupert Murdoch's paper), and were videotaped by teams from Court TV; Trackers, a show produced by Oxygen Media; and Lenin Tire Works (Jed and Amanda), who have been doing a documentary on the SCP since November 1999.

Contact the Surveillance Camera Players

By e-mail

By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998

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