Scales of Justice: Balance Security and the Public/Freedom

Scales of Justice: Balance Security and the Public/Freedom

By: Benjamin Goldman, Matthew Gomm, and Wynton Lewis

While it may sound like a utopian ideal, when asked to imagine the perfect public space, one might imagine an area that is freely accessible to everyone, and an area which is safe. Including everyone in a public space, however, means also including the people who may have malicious intentions. Security in a given area must be properly implemented so that an area can remain public, but remain safe as well. But, one might wonder, why is security necessary in a public space?

Imagine yourself walking along in New York City at night. Many people tend to gather around areas like Times Square, for example, because it is a secure area. It is secure firstly because of the presence of security, and secondly because there is a large crowd. Since the area is perceived to be secure, people will naturally be drawn to go there and utilize the space, therefore making the place a public space. Now, imagine yourself in a darkened, smaller, empty square in New York City at night. Chances are that since there are significantly less people, and since there is likely not any kind of security stationed there, people might feel less inclined to hang around there. This social perception of an unsafe area will naturally drive people to avoid the said location, therefore making it less of a public space, because people won’t be utilizing it.

Lily Watson, a sophomore at New York University, shares her view on walking around at night: “I definitely wouldn’t recommend walking around this area late at night by yourself. Even if you’re exercising common sense, it’s always better safe than sorry.”

Another student, at CUNY City College, Mark Greenberg, shared a similar viewpoint when asked if he walks alone around his area late at night: “Common sense is important. You don’t really know who you’re going to run into. Travel with a friend whenever you can.”

College students in New York City also agree that when more people are around, they feel safer. “Generally, when coming back to Queens College from Manhattan at night, I’ll take the 7-Train to Flushing as opposed to the E- or the F-Trains to Forest Hills. There’s more people there and there’s also restaurants like Burger King that you can wait for the bus in,” explained Abby Dusenbury, a Queens College junior. Speaking to a few college students in the local area, it is clear that security, even if in the form of “non-police” security (like other people being around, or a restaurant to wait in) is necessary to persuade people to utilize an area. The question is, however, how much security is necessary for people to socially perceive a place to be safe? Due to recent events and tragedies within the last decade, some believe that heightened and increased security is a necessity in order to do so.

One such failure happened in Boston one year ago. The annual Boston marathon could be seen as the quintessential public event, with more than 500,000 spectators yearly, a number second only to the Superbowl. The Boston Marathon in particular has a long history of openness, its stance towards the public significantly more positive than other official races. In 1975, they became the first major marathon to open a wheelchair division, later opening divisions for other forms of disability. The marathon has historically tolerated banditry, the practice of running without registering for the race. Most other major marathons, such as the New York City Marathon will actively pull aside unofficial runners. For decades before the tragedy people were able to come and go freely, carrying bags with them into and out of the race area. The “publicness” of this event was one of its hallmarks, security was there but generally remained unobtrusive. In 2013 specifically, the security was supposedly better than any earlier year. The usual teams of bomb sniffing dogs, security checkpoints, policeman and even national guardsman were all present in greater numbers than ever, but twenty six miles is a lot of ground for a thousand men and eleven dogs to be obvious, despite being deemed more than sufficient.

Not Enough Security?

Apparently it wasn’t. At 2:49 p.m., four hours after the races third wave, a deafening blast was heard around the city as a bomb detonated at 671-673 Boylston street. Thirteen seconds later a second device exploded two hundred yards away. Windows in adjacent buildings shattered from the shockwave as a scene more commonly associated with war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan unfolded in one of America’s greatest cities. In an instant the public spectacle and camaraderie of the event was annihilated. Three spectators were killed and two hundred and sixty four were wounded, many severely. At least fourteen required amputations with several suffering from traumatic amputation.

Emergency responders ended the race; diverting remaining runners away from the finish line. Nearby buildings were evacuated and a fifteen-block area around the blast site was closed off. Bomb scares continued to be reported around the city and public transportation and flights were put on hold, stranding hundreds. All civilians were told to remain inside as a precaution; the public space was temporarily suspended.

The Authorities Investigate

The investigation began, headed by the FBI, with the cooperation of the ATF, CIA, NCC and DEA. Josh Friedman, an FBI forensic scientist working at their labs in Quantico, described to us the subsequent process of gathering and analyzing evidence. Huge swaths of the city were closed down during this process while crime scene investigators literally swept the streets for evidence. An enormous amount of material was collected including ball bearings, nails, and other small sharp objects as well as the lid of a pressure cooker. These items and other evidence led the FBI to conclude that the bombs were pressure cookers filled with shrapnel rigged to explode via remote, repurposed RC controllers. The relatively simple nature of the devices, their concealibility and the damage they were capable of inflicting requires that security be even more extensive.

Tracking Down the Suspects

Several days later the FBI released grainy footage of the suspects taken from the marathon and asked the public for help in identifying them. Two men with coats, caps and backpacks walking in single file nonchalantly down the street. The FBI has said in a release to the Boston Globe that there’s no doubt this was a turning point in their investigation. Additional descriptions provided by Jeff Baumann, who had only just woken injuries sustained in the attack, helped cement the FBI’s suspicions. The perpetrators they were tragically not identified before once again committing murder, this time killing a police officer, Sean A. Collier of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Police Department, for his weapon and hijacking a civilian vehicle. Soon after they were confirmed to be two brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev.

After tracking the brothers to Watertown via a cellphone in their hijacked vehicle, a massive firefight occurred. According to Watertown police chief Edward Deveau, a “arsenal of weapons” was used by the terrorist brothers and crude improvised grenades were thrown. Eventually Tamerlan fell, severely wounded and Dzhokar drove off, dragging his brother for some way down the street. Ultimately Tamerlan died of his wounds in the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center before any information was extracted from him.

An unprecedented manhunt then began, beginning with the closure of all public space in Watertown and the surrounding cities including Boston. Everyone in those cities received reverse 911 calls to “shelter in place.” An are with a twenty block radius was cordoned off in Watertown as a door to door search took place. Swat teams and armored vehicles patrolled the streets as Helicopters flew overhead. All public transportation was shut down including most taxi services. Businesses, universities and other facilities were closed for the duration of the search.

Eventually, the search was called off with no results until a Watertown resident finally allowed out of his home noticed the cover on his boat was out of place. Inside he saw a body lying in a pool of blood, prompting him to immediately call the police; at last the nightmare had ended.

What Happened Next?

Legal proceedings and investigation continued for months. According to (interview subject FBI forensic scientist Joshua Friedman) the FBI has only now finished compiling the mountains of evidence provided by the Boston Police Department. The question now that the perpetrators have been caught, now that the terror is ended, what can we do to prevent it from happening again.

According to the online guidelines of the BAA (Boston Athletic Association which has organized the marathon since its start in 1897), security has been significantly increased. Only registered runners were allowed to participate as opposed to the previously free access for bandits. Items taken onto the course were restricted and spectators were advised not to take backpacks or bags with them. More than thirty five hundred officers were patrolling the route, over a hundred sophisticated camera systems were installed and the finish line was observed by more than fifty “observation points.” There were more than forty security checkpoints and thirteen miles of steel barricades.

Fortunately this year the race went on without a hitch, in fact significantly more runners participated this year than last year, but did we lose something in the process. Is that sense of publicness still alive or did the very visible security and more limited access destroy it. Is it possible that security has gone too far?

Post 9/11 Security

Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, a lot has changed with regards to security in New York City. This is especially true in areas like Lower Manhattan where the New York Stock Exchange, the World Financial Center and, the new World Trade Center are all located. These are all considered prime targets for another terrorist attack on New York City, and in order to prevent another terrorist attack the city has relied heavily on the surveillance of public spaces. Back in August of 2008, the New York Police Department, also known as the NYPD, started a program known as the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, which is a high-tech surveillance network. This network is not limited to just Lower Manhattan, but it has spread to Midtown Manhattan as well. The eventual goal of the program is to eventually have over 3,000 surveillance cameras and 100 license plate readers throughout the area. The goal of the cameras, primarily placed in public areas, is to capture suspicious activity on video and having it them reported to the police.

Civil Liberty Violation?

According to NBC’s senior writer Allison Linn, in 2011 there were 30 million more security cameras in use in the United States alone than there was twelve years before. That makes a significant difference, especially in the eyes of activists who believe that our civil liberties are being violated. The American Civil Liberties Union has questioned whether or not U.S. citizens are trading away too many of their personal freedoms for enhanced security. While the New York Civil Liberties Union has sought answers about the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, by taking the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which funds the program, to court to obtain information on, the location of cameras and license plate readers, the type of equipment being used, the timeline for implementing the security initiative as well as a list of buildings and other structures that will be protected. However, New York Judge John G. Koeltl ruled that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security does not have to reveal the specific locations of all Lower Manhattan Security Initiative surveillance cameras.

How much – Is too much?

An increase in security is shrinking public space. “As terror levels and the associated fortification of the built environment have become increasingly visible — particularly since September 11th 2001 — some urban scholars claim we have reached the end of public space and are experiencing the slow death of the public realm.” That idea is the main focus of an excerpt from the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, titled “Security Zones and New York City’s Shrinking Public Space” by Jeremy Németh and Justin Hollander. They believe that what is known as a security zone, and public spaces cannot overlap, and growing security zones will eventually diminish all remaining public spaces. But what exactly are public spaces in their view? They choose to define it in this way:

Public spaces are the lifeblood of cities. More than simple physical entities, truly public spaces are sites of interaction in which individuals are sometimes forced to interact with those whom they usually criticize or dislike. Our most open-minded cities are full of freely accessible spaces allowing for unplanned encounters and activities. In this regard, public spaces can educate the city-dweller about the ‘other’ and can teach true urbanity. Therefore, to be successful — spaces must be universally accessible and inclusive, encouraging interaction between acquaintances and strangers.

The main problem with security in a public place is that it often prevents some of the interactions that they claim must occur in a public space. The space has to be more than just a physical space, and it must be universally accessible and inclusive which is where security creeps in. The more security you add into a public space, the less inclusive the space becomes. The author had this to say with regards to which groups were being excluded; “we maintain that over-secured public spaces have had a disproportionately negative impact on some of the most marginal groups of society, including (but not limited to) the poor, ethnic minorities, the homeless population and alternative subcultures.”

The next important thing to investigate is the rationale behind this, and Németh and Holland, through their own extensive research and studying, believe they have the answer:

Since September 11th, public and private officials in most cities in the Western world have relied on a discourse of anti-terror security as their rationale for tightening security and fortifying our streets, sidewalks and spaces, thus threatening the very publicness that makes our cities vital and attractive.Urban managers frequently cite concerns over potential terrorist attacks as their justification to increase security measures like the gates, moats and barriers fortifying many public buildings. Some claim that these measures limit civil liberties by controlling behavior, limiting movement and downgrading the quality of life in cities. This security response is predicated on ensuring certainty, homogeneity and order. Yet the lifeblood of cities lies in their diversity and difference; without the opportunity to freely engage with strangers, ‘urban life withers’

The name Peter Marcuse, Professor of Urban Planning at Columbia University, is brought up throughout the excerpt, as he is one of the believers in the limiting effect security has on public space. Marcuse, in one of his many publications, describes New York City’s public spaces as becoming less public since city officials has limited access, controlled use and inhibited activities vital towards democracy. Marcuse believes that the city has ultimately, “the city has been secured from the public rather than for it, and shows how the limitations on public use were all carried out and legitimated in the name of ‘security.’ He strongly believes that most anti-terror, post 9/11, policies are limiting rights, undermining public dissent, causing more social activism and protests. Essentially the war on terrorism is a big sham and, “used various security policies to legitimize the ‘prevention, repression and control of mass citizen political mobilization in cities.”

Security & Safety – What’s the difference?

There is one last point made by Marcuse to drive this home, security and safety are different concepts, “Marcuse makes a crucial distinction between security and safety: the former is the perceived protection from danger while the latter refers to actual protection from danger.” He then goes on stating, “Agents of the War on Terror use a rhetoric of security to authorize limitations on the right to public space, even while concerns for actual safety from threat or danger have not been adequately addressed. Expanding on this logic, levels of fear in public space do not necessarily decrease as security measures increase, just as increases in actual safety do not necessarily increase feelings of overall security.” The point each group or person is trying to get at is, public space does not need security to be considered public space, rather that added security is destroying public space and making areas less public by excluding others and undermining the needs of the community.

This heightened security in New York City under Governor Andrew Cuomo, as a result of recent events, is an effort to help public areas maintain their safety and accessibility: essentially helping them remain public spaces. After all, if an area is not perceived as safe, and people stray away from it, the social perception of an area changes. Maintaining a positive perception of public areas is key to the success of those areas. This is due to the fact that if these areas are not being used, how public can they really be? As time goes on and into the future, and technology increases, allowing for more methods of security, it remains to be seen if the success of keeping places safe and completely public can ensue. Ultimately, the trick is to maintain a balance between security and publicness. Németh and Hollander sum it up perfectly: “the most open or accessible spaces are not always the most successful. Instead, successful public spaces adeptly balance liberty with personal security: while a mother with a small child might prefer a secure and controlled environment, a homeless person or a group of teenagers might prefer spaces lacking such median.” While exactly how much on each side of the scale is required to balance it is hotly contested, one thing remains for certain: the closer we can get to finding that balance, the closer we can get to providing optimal public space for everyone.

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