I'm surprised no one has made mention of The Camera. Perhaps that's because we don't see The Camera. We see what The Camera sees.
The Camera saw Mark Nepermann. And so you saw Mark Nepermann.
But who's behind The Camera?
IS IT BIG BROTHER?
On September 11, Al Qaeda won the war against the United States by inspiring a surveillance state among us. Cleverly, they needed only 19 men to pull it off. We did the rest ourselves, subsequently adding a self-imposed mandatory patriotism, handing over long-cherished rights to personal autonomy, and standing for a whole nother national anthem in the 7th inning.
"As long as it keeps us safe," the American security-mom toadied.
Many readers among the SP audience are too young to appreciate the sense of freedom enjoyed by us Generation Xers. Born after the trauma of 1968, educated at integrated schools; we always assumed liberalism was the norm. Besides, the concept of being watched hardly threatens a generation which broadcasts itself while it sits at the computer, and shares its every thought in text form with fives of followers.
But our local government rants and rages against the very idea of the Electronic Eye. Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart, an ex-cop, spoke out against automated surveillance this year, referring to red-light cameras. Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing doesn't like enforcing laws by any means. So she agreed with Schweighart's assessment.
The News-Gazette Editorial Board further stumped for lawlessness. In a spring election cycle which saw the ostensibly troglodyte reactionaries endorse two tax-increases and a liberal democrat; their only œuvre evincing belfry bats came March 17:
The fact is we don't need red-light cameras or even the possibility of them in Champaign, Urbana or any other community in central Illinois or, for that matter, the entire state.
It's understandable that red-light cameras are permitted in large jurisdictions, most notably Chicago, where the gap between the rulers and the ruled is as wide as the Grand Canyon. But here?
The city of Champaign is facing serious budget issues that will require budget cuts, fee increases and personnel reductions. It's pretty clear that administrators like Carter are looking to at least partially ease their budget concerns through niggling enforcement of traffic laws that generate expensive traffic citations to motorists.
Proponents dress this tool up as a public safety measure. But it's not. It's a revenue generator that embraces Barney Fife-like officiousness to penalize average people for the most minor of infractions. Our local elected city and state officials realize that. The danger is that our unelected, ruling elite do not.
Too much green beer, perhaps.
If Champaign really wanted to save money, wouldn't they stop assigning squad cars to manned speed traps? The car, the computer, the communications system and the officer earning $60,000 - it adds up fast.
The very best way to collect money from citizens is by taxing the behaviors we don't like. I know a lot of people who don't like red-light runners, and stop-sign scoundrels. They tend to live near traffic lights and stop signs, or ride bikes.
In the age of Driving While Intoxicated, Driving While Texting and driving while doing almost anything other than paying attention to the road; citations provide a useful, non-lethal reminder to errant motorists.
But is it Big Brother?
Is Big Brother the surveillance itself, or the fear of being watched? Is it awareness of the surveillance? Is it the concealed camera or the conspicuous signboard? I think it's the latter. I think Big Brother is anything designed to cower us into submission.
If government starts peering into our homes, I'll change my tune. I'll say it's both. In-home monitoring is definitely Big Brother. But even Antonin Scalia says that's unconstitutional. While people are on the public highways and commons, they should not expect to not be policed.
(I'll also change my tune if First Responders and any armed profession doesn't stop telling me how important they are and how much I should respect them. That's Big Brother, too. I want my military and protective services to be largely invisible to me. I'm glad to know they're there, and I want them to be quiet about it.)
Because neither city is interested in law enforcement, it's left to C-U's third police department to employ 21st century technology. And I'm not even sure they do it. Where did the Nepermann video come from?
I went to find out.
FIND THE CAMERA
Here's Mark Nepermann. But where exactly is "here?"
And where is Big Brother?
I trekked to the scene of the crime; Race Row at the University of Illinois.
This is a street of buildings designed to remind minorities that they're different. It also helps them stay different, and reminds them of their inherent differences.
But in ways, it also helps them assimilate. For example, the house directly across the street from Native American House is the Learning to Speak English Center.
As you can see from the photograph, no obvious surveillance camera protrudes from the edifice of this building. There's some guttering, and a bicycle. That's about it. I concluded that the Nepermann photo did not come from here.
Next door to Native American House is The Asian American Cultural Center, one of the few places on campus where it's acceptable to hang out and be Asian. There were no obvious cameras here, too.
But directly in front of the Cultural Center is Asian American House. There's a tripod in the attic window at Asian American House.
Could this be the shooter's nest?
Maybe the camera is over there somewhere?
Or way over there.
I saw a lot of signs in front of La Casa Cultural Latina, and the Black People House*. But I couldn't find any billboards of Big Brother, nor any security cameras.
(*This is my proposed new name — to distinguish African-American House fromthose centers catering to Africans of white to light tan pigment; such as the Center for Afrikaans Studies, Tutsi Cultural Center, and Libyan Diaspora House — all of which will presumably be erected on Race Row at some point in the future. If you can't say Black, don't say anything at all.)
An aside: La Casa might be the best place to start in the new war against War Against Natives.
I've discovered, from my time in the food & drink biz, that Latinos hate Chicanos. That is, the Spanish-speakers descended from Spaniards look down on their conquered aboriginal hosts. In return, the Mayans hate their Mexican overlords. There's tremendous race prejudice in Central America, stemming from this bias.
La Casa is here to promote peace and brotherhood within the Spanish-speaking world, and without it. But they are not helping, as far as I could tell, with surveillance.
I realized it might be silly to search for intrusive police technologies among the fortresses of minority advancement. After all, it's often the leadership of minority advancement groups heard to decry police intrusion.
Maybe it was the white girls from Delta Gamma who caught Nepermann. But how to determine whether the Nepermann photo was taken from inside the Delta Gamma house?
I've decided I should interview each member individually. Or possibly in pairs.
But basically, my search for a surveillance camera on Race Row bore no fruit. In fact, I couldn't find one anywhere near it. Even the Henry Administration Building had no discernible security monitor. I guess those riots of the Vietnam/Civil Rights era are long forgotten. As I said, I missed all that.
Finally, I did find a security camera on campus. But it's not surreptitious. And a tossed coat could easily flummox its ability to determine which Unabombers are loitering in the foyer of the Illini Union.
So I finally found a camera. But I still didn't know the extent to which electronic monitoring is used by the U of I Police. Giving a nod to sober research, I asked a friend of mine on the force (good cop) to connect me to someone who might know. He told me that the Chief was on vacation. So maybe I'll get an answer next week
THE GOOD NEWS ABOUT BIG BROTHER
One untold benefit of surveillance is its preemption of traditional police procedure. Rather than rounding up the usual suspects, the cops are forced to go after specific persons. For good cops, it saves a lot of time. For dirty cops, it eliminates potential targets for brow-beating (or regular beating).
This should be good news to Durango Mendoza, and anyone who feels that he and people who look like him are targeted by police. Instead of harassing everyone into submission, The Camera forces police to go after individual perpetrators. The ever-increasing ubiquity of monitoring devices suggests to me that reasonable juries will begin to demand the hard evidence these devices supply. No longer will convictions arise from mere testimonial evidence. That's good, because cops lie.
As an aside, I think the world of whities owes some degree of explanation to those who might not know. As a full-fledged (and frankly pasty) member of the white ruling class, I'll take it upon myself to divulge the dirt: We get hassled by The Man, too. What's more, we are unkind to one another; both for very good reasons, and for no reason at all.
It was 1996 that I first realized, thanks to radio host Ty Wansley, that black people (or any minorities) might actually believe that white people are nice to each other all the time, so long as no one's around. A caller asserted as much on Ty's radio show. Ty refuted the idea, and explained that people in America are generally not friendly to each other.
I should have recognized this notion when I first saw Eddie Murphy's brilliant "White Like Me" on SNL. But I was too young to appreciate the message. Plus I was laughing too hard.
The epiphany came later: Maybe people who look different think we treat them badly because they look different.
Nope. We're just dicks. But we're egalitarian about it.
RESPECTING NATIVE HOSTS
Maybe this is a good idea. Maybe we should respect our native hosts.
But to do so flies in the face of the diversity concept best exemplified by the American academic community. Really, the ideal in academia is evangelism. One is required by custom to leave the comfortable campus where one's inculcation and sodality occurred, and take those ideas to others. This is why it was so appropriate for my neighbors across the street (lovely people by the way) to print and erect the RESPECT NATIVE HOSTS signs all over town. Their native hosts are recalcitrant white people, known in the academic community as "locals," "yokels," or "townies."
Townies have been here for generations, and keep customs much different from those observed within the university community. To see townies in their natural habitat, interested watchers may venture to sites in which townies are prone to fester: the Apple Dumplin Restaurant, American Legion post #71/Bunny's Tavern and churches.
If you go, be cautious about Asserting Views. The temptation is to help them, rather than leave them as you found them. But conservationist principles may not apply here. However, if you'd rather not explain to them about how they're wrong in situ, you can tell them on your lawn.
Certainly any displayed placard which demands that strangers think and behave in a prescribed way evokes images of Big Brother. But if it weren't for foreign interlopers squatting locally for a few of their best beer-drinking years and clamoring for change, who would thrust ideas at us? Sure, the native hosts don't like it. But eventually their enlightenment and improvement will obtain. (Don't expect them to immediately adhere to the tenets. They'll need 16 to 18 years to think about it before you see policy changes.)
I (somewhat cynically) championed my own native birth in my recent local candidacy. The idea provoked no reaction from most academics. But Professor George Batzli, a man who's lived on the block where I grew up since before I was born, resented it. "Are you calling me a carpetbagger?" he queried.
The townies ate it up. They are a colorful people.
In fact, if I were not such a gay-loving, tree-hugging apatheistic abortionist, I believe many of them may even have voted for me.
(Ed. note: Rob's opinions about the nature of cultural houses are his own, and do not reflect the opinions of the editorial board or Smile Politely on the whole.)