By Phoenix Insurgent
Transporting prisoners on the Valley's shiny new light rail system? Yup. Sheriff Joe's at it again but, as usual, the media have missed the point when it comes to his publicity stunt. After initially reporting dutifully on Arpaio's "con rail" circus like the stenographers they are (quoting verbatim from the Sheriff's press release, for instance) and framing it as a safety issue (the only dialogue they are truly capable of having with us), the media have become quite pleased with themselves after they actually managed to follow up on something Arpaio said and discovered a possible contradiction.
In what passes for a journalistic scoop in this town of ever-shrinking newspaper payrolls, it was revealed -- mostly by Arpaio himself it should be pointed out -- that the Sheriff, despite claims to the contrary, is not only eligible for the airport's free cop parking lot, but is actually apparently currently taking advantage of the service. Oh, sweet controversy! After all, it's hard to claim you're saving money on the light rail at $2.50 a round trip per person when you can take advantage of free parking at the airport. Just as quickly as it appeared, the question of light rail as prison bus has become just another bureaucratic budget debate. And no one bothered to connect the $72,000 Joe has miraculously re-appeared into his budget with the slashing of health and other essential services at his jails.
However, at the same time the press was blabbering on about airport parking (it's a nightmare -- we know!) a much bigger point passed without comment. Namely, that the light rail serves itself as a sort of mobile police state. And it conveniently goes practically directly to the jail, thus making it the perfect tool for a fascist like Sheriff Joe. Try it yourself: Mapquest estimates the trip at .34 miles and 1 minute travel time between the light rail and the jail. It's utterly covered from nose to stern with cameras and other surveillance devices and policed by security and law enforcement. Plus, as Joe points out, the added deputies only add security. Truly secure, indeed.
Keep in mind, I'm not arguing in support of transporting prisoners on the light rail. What I'm saying is that the logic of the light rail as inmate transporter is a natural reflection of the design and concept of the light rail itself. Light rail meets light jail. They aren't mutually contradictory. That fact says something very important about the new train that has gone completely unremarked on in the media as it bends over backwards to do one vacuous human interest story after another about the new project.
I noticed that not one reporter I saw asked anyone if they were uncomfortable with the presence of armed police on the light rail! This despite the recent execution of an unarmed commuter on the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. Is that because the police don't seem out of place on the train? Probably. But what does that say about the light rail?
In this age of increasingly strict controls on movement, from border cameras to freeway cameras to light rail cameras to jail cameras, it's surprising that it took Joe this long to point out what should have been obvious to everyone from the moment the first masked, machine-gun toting cops set foot on the light rail platform in December, if not before. Joe didn't have a stroke of genius! He just came to a logical conclusion based on an honest evaluation the nature and potentiality of the light rail itself: use it to transport prisoners.
Why is this a natural conclusion? Because every day is 1984 on the light jail. Bristling with cameras inside and out and sporting the latest advances in the social engineering science of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (pioneered in Tempe as a means to advance the private/government/university directed gentrification of downtown and utilized by Phoenix in its bus and other public stations), the light rail cruises the city streets like a cross between a wage slave ship and a prison barge, delivering poor working saps to their cubicles and now prisoners to their cells without any modification required. Shouldn't this be something that we remark on? In the parlance of Orwell's 1984, the light rail panopticon watches both the Proles and the Outer Party members alike.
And when not shipping us out for the extraction of surplus value or incarceration, the trains deliver us to the tax-subsidized spectacle downtown. But any aberration from from the prescribed use of these public facilities will be detected, duly noted and reported immediately to security personnel. As we found out in the case of those kids who tagged up a station recently, the data and images are stored for some time, thus creating a searchable record of miscreant behavior. Truly multi-purpose. Or single-purposed, more like it, since the control grid is build right into the light rail itself, thus all applications of it reflect that reality. So, is the light rail a liberating transportation system or a control grid apparatus?
While it's creepy enough that Valley Metro is tracking our license plates at the park-n-ride stations, and that there are sixteen cameras on every train (six interior, ten facing out), there is worse to come. In an article in Security Director News, Larry Engleman, Director of Safety and Security for Valley Metro explained not only how Big Brother principles had been built directly into the light rail from the go, but how future legs of the project will go even further in their ability to track, regulate and control us.
"This project was typical with open, visible spaces [that needed to be protected]. We installed public address systems, an emergency call system and CCTV," explained Engleman. "Unfortunately, when we began this project, analytics was not a proven technology. We designed the future extension so that it will have analytics and if we have the money we'll retrofit it."
What is this 'analytics' that Engleman laments wasn't included in the first leg of the rail? Stuff like face and gait recognition technology, audio analysis, object location and behavior recognition. So, rest assured, citizen, the light rail of the future will be able to watch your every move from the time you get on (or even before that if you park and ride, since they can track you to your house by your license plate) to the time you get off, headed for work or the game presumably, but perhaps the jail -- it makes no difference to the light rail. It will deliver you there either way. And it will be able to analyze your behavior and even mark you as a security threat. Will there be a 'do not ride list' for the light rail? You didn't make an audible nasty comment about those sheriff's deputies transporting a prisoner, did you? Your travel papers have been revoked! Straight to jail without collecting a check at your cubicle!
It's truly a case of the accepted ideology covering up the truth, since the light rail is boosted in city ads as a liberalization of movement. But this assertion is only true if you ignore the political and control aspects of the surveillance technology deployed throughout the system. One has to believe that they exist for "security" and that "security" is neutral or even benevolent. But it isn't neutral. It reflects the class interests of the people who design and deploy it. On the light rail, it is aimed, for one thing, at people who take public transportation. And it is aimed at prisoners now. It's aimed at the poor. Yet there are no such surveillance systems installed in the luxury cars of box seat owners at Suns games. The control grid exists to regulate the poor and working class. And it's there to protect the capitalist and bureaucratic elite. In order to believe that the light rail surveillance grid is about mere safety, you have to ignore the fact that such a system by definition serves the needs of Capital first and foremost.
That is, it gets you to work to slave away for a paycheck or it gets you to jail when you pass a bad check. And it skips a large chunk of the poor, Latino part of Phoenix even as it gets you from one white yuppie colony in downtown Tempe to another white yuppie colony in Phoenix. Notice how it doesn't need to change form in order to accomplish all these things because it inherently expresses the needs of Capital. The train directs us in the pre-approved paths of Capital. The light rail, therefore, is the expression of Capital, and it's security grid is likewise the expression of the need to defend Capital.
But it doesn't stop there. The control grid stretches even beyond the light rail itself even as far as the border. How is that? Since Tempe and Mesa opted not to use their police forces to physically patrol the stations and trains, they opted to contract out to Wackenhut to the tune of a three-year contract and almost $4 million -- a company that also contracts with ICE and DHS for the maintenance of immigration detention centers and transportation. Thus, the police state we see expressed on the light rail is mirrored at the border, and vice-versa. The dollars from one flow to and from the other. And so do the logic and technologies of control. They are hand in hand, velvet glove and iron fist.
And while some, particularly working class white people, may think that exceptions will be made for them, and that they can support controls on travel for one group while expecting immunity for themselves -- even when it comes to crossing the border -- the example of the light rail shows that no such dispensation shall be granted. Such hall passes are temporary and tolerated by the capitalist class only in as much as it reinforces the over all project of control. The goal is total control, and if white folks will accept the experiments on folks of color, or migrants, then so much the better from the elite perspective. But the exception proves the rule, guaranteeing that it won't last.
Free people must travel freely. Without that right, whether when crossing the border or just crossing town, we are not free people. And supporting the extension of the logic of control in one place, such as the border, enables the extension of it everywhere else.