As part of NewHive‘s series exploring privacy, surveillance and prison reform, the site has commissioned Chicago-based artist Terrell Davis to create an original piece, “Watching Over U.” Focusing on the irony of surveillance culture, Davis examines how the same techniques that are used to watch everything are dismissed when they capture injustice, particularly against people of color.
“It’s become a pattern seeing black people’s bodies used as entertainment online, through the constant sharing of their murders caught on camera and the responses made from them,” he says. “Usually, though these cases have an abundance of video evidence, whether it’s a surveillance camera on the corner of a street, someone’s phone a couple of feet away from the scene, or a police-ordered bodycam, they never get justice and the brutal killer cops go off free to set their eyes on their next victim. It’s interesting to see blatant injustice take place when these cameras were placed or videos filmed solely for evidence, but somehow though we are constantly being watched through these lenses, it’s still not enough.”
With “Watching Over U,” Davis challenges ideas of privacy as they relate to justice and police brutality. The first piece comments on the ways technology and social media have changed surveillance. Phones, street-cams, webcams, security monitors—everything is captured on camera—and yet, when black Americans are killed at the hands of police, footage is called into question.
“The first piece focuses on the absurdity of constant surveillance through the participation of random people off public cameras found on websites like EarthCam,” he says. “These people, though walking, oblivious to the fact that people may be watching them, didn’t ask to be a part of this piece or be watched, yet the abundance of cameras everywhere make it impossible to have a sense of privacy, even in your own home (webcams can still easily be hacked into). In reality, I question, who is this really helping? I notice that though surveillance is everywhere, I rarely see it being used to bring justice to cases, mainly police killings.”
The artist also questions why cameras are used if, in cases of police brutality, evidence is often ignored: “If you’re not going to use these systems for good then what’s the point of having them there in the first place?”
Davis’ second piece, “Watching Over U II,” serves as a memorial for Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, exploring the way surveillance has let these people down in the pursuit of justice.
“Their deaths were all caught on tape through self-recording, dash or bodycams, and surveillance cameras whether inside or out of prison,” he writes. “These videos were widely spread, with most like-minded people believing that these videos obviously show unnecessary brutalization [at] the hands of the police, yet these killer cops still walk free with their jobs unscathed.”
Experience “Watching Over U,” above.