Prop. 1 divides Columbia

The proposition would allow the police chief to install cameras downtown.
Peg Miller and Eleanor Wickersham of Keep Columbia Free distribute the group's signs to audience members at a screen of '1984' on Friday. The group opposes Proposition 1 and says installing surveillance cameras downtown would be an invasion of privacy.

Privacy advocates spent the start of the weekend doing a final protest against a measure to install cameras in the downtown area, and Columbia voters go to the polls today to decide its fate.

Members of Keep Columbia Free screened the film "1984" and distributed newly printed yard signs Friday at The Blue Note to generate opposition to Proposition 1. The group, with members from several local civil liberties organizations, became an official campaign committee March 26.

KCF member Mitchell Richards said the group chose the film to highlight the rise of the "surveillance state" due to increased monitoring of citizens by all levels of government, even beyond Columbia.

"We're also seeking to inform the community, even after the election, of the rise of government surveillance of the citizenry," Richards said.

The film, based on George Orwell's novel of the same name, features government "telescreens," which surround citizens of the fictional state of Oceania and bombard them with propaganda messages. The screens are also used to monitor citizens' words and actions.

KCF board member Dan Viets, who is also president of the mid-Missouri chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, cited warnings from Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis regarding governments invading privacy for societal benefits, such as public safety.

"That's exactly what we're dealing with here," Viets said. "We have a danger to liberty, an insidious encroachment, an evolutionary building of a wall of government surveillance."

Several politicians spoke out against the measure before the film began. City Council members from four of Columbia's six wards gave brief remarks against Proposition 1, as did four of the six mayoral candidates. They said installation of the cameras would be an invasion of privacy, a waste of tax dollars and at odds with two previous City Council votes against the measure.

Mayoral candidate Sean O'Day came to the stage wearing a white theater mask to disguise himself from people conducting surveillance and suggested governments might one day observe citizens in their homes.

He said the cameras would only benefit a small number of business owners.

"These cameras are a handout to a limited number of businesses," O'Day said. "We cannot have these on our streets."

According to previous Maneater articles, Columbia resident Karen Taylor began the push to install cameras downtown. Taylor formed Keep Columbia Safe and began campaigning for the cameras after her son, Adam Taylor, was attacked in the Tenth and Cherry streets parking garage in June.

A security camera installed in the parking garage captured the assault and Columbia police used the footage to identify the seven assailants.

The Columbia Police Officers Association endorsed Proposition 1 in February, saying more cameras could help prevent and solve more crimes.

"It is clear that our community insists on law enforcement that is effective and thus equipped with the tools and technologies necessary to combat crime and to provide a safe working and living environment," the CPOA said in a February statement endorsing a "yes" vote on the proposition.

Proposition 1's other supporters include the Special Business District and Columbia Professional Fire Fighters.

On Thursday, Democracy for Missouri, a statewide progressive group, signaled its opposition to Proposition 1 as well. Democracy for Missouri Secretary Rebecca Schedler said installing cameras would give the impression downtown is unsafe.

"You don't want your whole town covered in cameras," Schedler said. "It would make me feel like I was doing something dishonest."

The Friday showing followed another KCF protest along Broadway. The group demonstrated with signs and members brought cameras to conduct "mock surveillance."

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