Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Thursday, October 19, 2017

Published with permission from AlterNet

Hedge funder uses private foundation to fund personal police project, circumventing democratic oversight.

Over the past few years, billionaires have unilaterally shut down a popular newsite, pushed common core on the Department of Education and steered candidates to a hardline position on Israel. Now one Texas-based billionaire (who began amassing his fortune at Enron) has singlehandedly spearheaded a massive spying program—secret until now—in a city 1500 miles away from where he lives.

John Arnold used his foundation to funnel $120,000 for an aerial surveillance program into a police charity, the Baltimore Community Foundation, which covered the costs for the department. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, which broke the story earlier this week, the program was not revealed to Baltimore citizens, and because it was funded by monies outside the normal channels of oversight, it did not need typical approval from elected city officials.

The surveillance program, implemented by Persistent Surveillance System’s Ross McNutt, involved a near-total visual surveillance of the population using a combination of on-the-ground cameras and cameras attached to a permanently rolling fleet of Cessna planes. The effort began last year when John Arnold heard a piece on the public radio program RadioLab featuring the technology, which was originally used in Iraq during the surge.

The Laura and John Arnold Foundation told McNutt if he could find a city that would allow the company to fly for several months, they would donate the money to keep the plane in the air. McNutt had met the lieutenant in charge of Baltimore’s ground-based camera system on the trade-show circuit, and they had become friendly. “We settled in on Baltimore because it was ready, it was willing, and it was just post-Freddie Gray,” McNutt says. The Arnolds’ foundation donated the money to the Baltimore Community Foundation.

It’s unclear how Baltimore could be “ready and willing” when the public wasn’t informed. What McNutt appears to mean is that the Baltimore Police Department was ready and would not seek public discussion.

While initial reports did not explore the racial component, it cannot be ignored. McNutt’s “post-Freddie Gray” remark carries with it racial implications, namely that the monitoring tool might be used to control protests or unrest in addition to preventing crime. Arnold, who is white, is using his tremendous power and wealth to treat a predominately black city as a guinea pig in his crime prevention trial raises questions of undue influence and the circumvention of normal, local democratic processes. The democratically elected body that would normally need to approve such a measure, the Baltimore Board of Estimates, is currently 60 percent African American. The foundation that served as the conduit between Arnold and the department is not sanctioned by voters and according to its spokesperson didn’t even “know what the money was for.” If true, this would rest the oversight of the program entirely on the shoulders of the hedge fund billionaire who was paying for it and the Baltimore Police Department that managed it.

No doubt anticipating bad press, the Baltimore Sun ran a glowing puff piece on the Arnolds Friday, showcasing the charitable work they do in Maryland. John Arnold is also a major backer of charter schools, a movement heavily favored by the hedge fund industry. He has also spent a considerable amount of time and money pushing so-called pension reform, a long-term project also supported by many in the hedge fund industry.

With the expansion of police body cameras and surveillance in general, the ways in which monitoring can also help prevent police violence are at the center of this controversy. Power asymmetry can affect what cameras record and prioritize, and typically works in favor of those who control the technology.

“This whole city is under a siege of cameras,” Baltimore resident Ralph Pritchett told Bloomberg Businessweek in its report. “In fact, they observed Freddie Gray himself the morning of his arrest on those cameras, before they picked him up. They could have watched that van, too, but no—they missed that one. I thought the cameras were supposed to protect us. But I’m thinking they’re there to just contradict anything that might be used against the city of Baltimore. Do they use them for justice? Evidently not.”

h/t Bloomberg Businessweek

Photo via Flickr/Jonathan McIntosh

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2016 The National Memo

6 Responses to White Billionaire Secretly Funds Surveillance Program Aimed at Baltimore’s Mostly Black Population

  1. Is imbecility on this level a new “normal” for America? Does paranoia and constant fretting about those who don’t fit the mold of “Ideal and Preferred Citizen” lead one to waste his or her inordinate wealth on such a massive waste of resources?
    These questions and more come to mind as new reports of the meltdown of common sense and decency come in with alarming frequency.

    FOX and company with its egregious infidelity to the notion of responsible journalism, Ailes’ insecurity and sexual deviance, Trump’s narcissism and possible rape activities, the stepped up decline in morality among primarily Trump supporters and their willingness to abandon the ideals of Christianity, the insistence on a steadfast disbelief in the Oneness of Humankind despite the counsels of Baha’u’llah made in the mid-19th Century and the recent findings of population genetics and genomics pointing to a common ancestry for all humanity—all these factors lead a nut like McNutt to throw good money away on an idiotic attempt to play KGB in America, in order to keep American society forever on the brink of major outbreaks of violence in response to this lack of respect for the dignity of the human being.

    The status quo Religions ineffectiveness and largely irrelevance in dealing with social crises here and abroad, as amply demonstrated by the attitudes of ministers for Trump, the burgeoning urge to disrespect women by using the weapon of rape(refer to Stanford U. case and Ailes’ embarrassing behavior), rise in drug abuse nationwide, certain politicians insistence on being outright jerks when it comes to projecting racial stereotyping in their accusations, police officers who have been brought up to turn on an ON/OFF DANGER switch they’ve evolved as a separate mental organ, as a result of decades of being indoctrinated to always mistrust and fear “the other”—all these, along with greed, and an insensitive Conservative political base that consistently shows a disdain for the reality that humankind is one, keeps the nation on the verge of undergoing a cataclysmic social upheaval.

    All because of a dogged insistence on reliance on myths and stereotypes, and an undying allegiance to the false god of “The Inequality of the Human Races”.
    One thing, and one thing alone, can release us from this downward spiral.

    • It has become a very sad state of affairs. It is so easy to look at all the damage that was done before Trump accelerated the hatred, prejudice, fear, racism, divisiveness, xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, and distrust with his daily barrage of half-truths and lies, and feel pessimistic about the future. As bad as Trump has worsened them, there is still hope for a better future and enlightening of the masses. Some may never listen but others will.

    • Now that they know, what legal recourse do the citizens of Baltimore have? For sure, the program needs to stop immediately. At a minimum, democratic oversight needs to be established. If put to a citizens vote, and I think it should have to pass that hurdle, I would vote against. I am much more worried about Big Brother and the erosion of personal privacy than I am crime. What would it take for a class action suit for invasion of privacy?

  2. This sounds positively Orwellian like 1984. So he missed the year but now we have eyes in the skies that spy on the masses. No 1 who really knew about this but the Baltimore PD is very unsettling. There are no words to describe this outrage & unlawful monitoring of citizens. One can only imagine seeing this program implemented nationwide with a President Trump looking to round up illegals (his words) & deport them

Leave a reply