The Panopticon — a prison so built radially that a guard at a central position can see all the prisoners — is also known as the infamous and ever-vigilant Foucauldian unblinking eye of authority watching every move a prisoner makes while remaining rough and ready to strike punishment as often as needed, has come to the streets of Harlem as “Sky Watch.”
The Sky Watch, about two stories tall, consists of a booth for a cop that stands atop a tower that collapses when the officer is ready to leave. The booth, which gives the cop a line of sight from 20 feet up, has four cameras, a high-powered spotlight and various sensors. The digital cameras, which continue recording when the booth is unstaffed, save the video to a hard drive.The units, which cost from $40,000 to $100,000 apiece, are also being used by the U.S. Border Patrol and cops in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Dallas and Fort Worth. NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said the department has leased one or two of the devices and hopes to eventually have five. Since they’re moveable, they’re more flexible than fixed cameras. One tower was installed about three weeks ago at 129th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem – drawing cheers and jeers.
What does this mean for the innocent residents of Harlem who now live in an open-air prison? Here’s a traditional prison Panopticon where a central watchtower sits at the center of the structure surrounded by prisoners in their cells.
The prisoners cannot see the watchtower but sunlight pouring through outer windowed cell walls shows all movement of the prisoners in shadow to the unblinking Panopticonic eye:
Here’s the Harlem Sky Watch box in action — have you ever seen an uglier obelisk wannabe? — where the sentry tower becomes the center tower of the Panopticon while the buildings and apartments surrounding it become the windowed prison cells from which there is no escape from the unblinking eye of punishment:
A watched cauldron never boils, but an observed populace ultimately overthrows its gaoler. Just who are being protected in Harlem and just who are being watched? The unblinking eye of authority stings us all from the NYPD Harlem Panopticon and we are all made more guilty because of it ominous presence.