Oh, [big] brother.
New York City’s police force plans to deploy drones just as an annual parade celebrating non-Hispanic Caribbean heritage is set to be held in a move that harkens back to post-9/11 surveillance tactics.
The NYPD made the announcement days before the West Indian Day Parade is set to be held in Brooklyn over the Labor Day holiday weekend and said it was reportedly “focused” on pre-parade activities.
According to the Associated Press, the NYPD’s drone surveillance program was sparked out of vague concerns over places where a lot of people would be.
“If a caller states there’s a large crowd, a large party in a backyard, we’re going to be utilizing our assets to go up and go check on the party,” Kaz Daughtry, the assistant NYPD Commissioner, told reporters on Thursday.
Daughtry also said the drones would be used in places described by the Associated Press located “beyond the parade route.”
In theory, though, circumstances could change that quickly and the drones could easily be guided elsewhere.
The NYPD’s announcement of the drones was, as the Associated Press put it, “focused on J’Ouvert,” the morning street carnival that marks the end of slavery and happens before the parade. The annual festivities have been marred by violence over the years, including, notably, the 2015 shooting death of an aide for then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
But this year’s installment of the parade is also happening amid rapid gentrification in historically Black communities in Brooklyn in a scenario that has likely contributed to what longtime residents have called the “over-policing” of those neighborhoods during West Indian Day parades.
Still, none of that gives the NYPD the right to effectively spy on people, Daniel Schwarz, a privacy and technology strategist in the policy department of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told the Associated Press.
He suggested the drone program violates the NYPD’s own “Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act Impact and Use Policies” intended to establish “transparency” with the public it is charged with protecting and serving.
“It’s a troubling announcement and it flies in the face of the POST Act,” Schwartz said “Deploying drones in this way is a sci-fi inspired scenario.”
The drones will be deployed amid reports that crime is surging across New York City and other parts of the country.
Other preemptive steps the police have taken to avoid violence over the holiday weekend include giving a letter to dozens of “gangbangers” warning them to stay out of trouble, particularly during J’Ouvert and the West Indian Day Parade.
But doing so could be interpreted as a threat against those said “gangbangers” and make the policing tactic backfire.
“These kids already know the NYPD knows about them and is watching them,” Alex Vitale, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College, told the New York Daily News. “More threats and coercion from the police department doesn’t seem like the strongest strategy.”
Vitale suggested the police use a community liaison to approach the individuals labeled “gangbangers” in an effort to broker peace.
“And have them say, ‘We’re trying to do something positive for the community — put those beefs aside for three days, and let’s go out and have a good weekend,’” Vitale proposed.
Data shows that major crimes like murder, rape and robbery were down in July by double-digit percentages compared to the same time last year.
New York City Mayor Adams, a retired longtime police officer in the city, has taken an aggressive approach to public safety since nearly day one on the job. Last year, he announced he intended to reinstate a dismantled special plainclothes police unit meant to target guns and street gangs. It was previously dissolved amid accusations of racial profiling Black and brown New Yorkers. It was the same kind of task force for which the officers who beat Tyre Nichols to death in Memphis worked.
To be sure, the annual West Indian Day Parade is a tried and true New York City tradition.
Every Labor Day since 1969, people have flooded the streets of the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights to celebrate West Indian culture. Although the parade originally had its roots in Harlem back in the 1940s, when the permit for the parade in Harlem was revoked in 1964, the festival was moved to Brooklyn on the Eastern Parkway main thoroughfare.
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