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The NYPD Panopticon Imprisons Harlem

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.

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Lucky in Harlem

When we moved to New York twenty years ago from Nebraska — after first deferring through Washington, D.C. for a year — we rented a giant, three axle, Ryder truck for the price of a van — they were out of vans when we arrived with our prepaid reservation — and we motored into the muggy urban core of the Big Apple by driving down the wrong way of a one way sliver of Riverside Drive near Columbia University in the repressive heat of a mid-August afternoon.

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