As the season cools and the leaves fall, so do relationships that no longer serve us. Activists across the country are cutting ties from law enforcement through defund the police campaigns. But behind the scenes, however, Amazon is using private contracts to tie cities in an ever expanding spy network controlled by the police. It is time to #BreakUpWithAmazon.
After the murder of George Floyd, Amazon loudly proclaimed their support for Black Lives, while quietly establishing 287 new Ring partnerships with police departments. Amazon’s Ring offers camera footage to police creating a nationwide, private spy network. Even the country’s “most radical city” isn’t immune to falling for surveillance capitalism’s rebranding of surveillance as safety.
In Jackson, Mississippi, for instance Mayor Chokwe Lumumba approved a pilot program that will allow police to livestream Amazon Ring cameras in the city. The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened disparities in Jackson, while the state legislature continues to dismiss calls for aid. As Jackson struggles to meet the needs of working class neighborhoods, residents are buying home surveillance cameras that Mayor Lumumba is turning into a free spy network for the police.
Amazon is profiting off the legacy of racialized fear to secure and expand their private surveillance partnerships with the police, while at the same time, undermining grassroots efforts that would curtail and abolish police surveillance. Take Detroit for instance, where MediaJusticeNetwork Members, The Detroit Community Technology Project and BYP 100 have been fighting against the police use of facial recognition and Project Greenlight a citywide surveillance system. Just this summer Detroit police used facial recognition to misidentify Robert Williams a Black man for a robbery. In this anti-Black atmosphere Amazon then easily pressures cities struggling with lost revenue and mounting desperation, to fork out even more money to subsidize the purchase of Amazon’s Ring. Washington, DC. gave a $200 rebate to every household that purchased the Ring.
It’s a simple formula. In struggling cities, Amazon can exploit racialized fear and co-opt the movement’s demand to end police violence, by selling communities across the nation the possibility of living in an invisible gated community, patrolled by your neighbors and the police. This is Amazon’s insidious strategy to rebrand safety as a surveillance. By repeating this cycle, Amazon has built over 1,600 partnerships with police departments across the country. So while the movement for Black lives fights to defund police Amazon goes around decisions made at city hall to sell surveillance to frightened neighbors.
Activists won city ordinances to ban facial recognition software only for Amazon to get residents to buy the Ring with contracts turning their cameras into spy networks for police. Most of the Black people identified in San Francisco’s Neighborhood Watch video were labelled as “suspicious” or potential criminals. If you really listen to Amazon’s narrative for Neighborhood Watch, the social platform created for Ring users you can see how they encourage us to spy on each other and become the police.
We must find the courage to end relationships rooted in fear, where #BlackLivesMatter signs adorn the porches of racist spy networks. That’s why MediaJustice has launched the #BreakUpWithAmazon campaign. We must all reconsider our relationship to a company who in practice has only brought more harm to Black lives. Will you join us?