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Kalgoorlie locals are concerned that high resolution cameras fitted to private security company vehicles, expected to begin operating in March, will be used to disproportionately target Indigenous youth.
Local company MCM Protection recently told the Kalgoorlie Miner that the “objective is to get that footage to the police so they can action it.”
MCM co-owner Steve McNamara said their goal was to have young people on the streets identified, with the information passed on to State Government agencies for a welfare check.
“We want to get [youth] off the streets. It’s going to sort of make the parents be accountable and hopefully [the Department of Child Protection] will follow up with it and what’s happening with the family,” he told the Miner.
Community member Debbie Carmody told National Indigenous Times that “it’s always First Nations people who are targeted” by any discussion of crime in the town on social media.
“Even if they don’t mention First Nations people that is who they are talking about, they use names like ‘the untouchables’.”
Ms Carmody said young people on the streets who are not breaking the law should not be filmed and harassed.
“Over school holidays at night kids will be outside, the other night we had a minimum at night of 35 degrees. Friday night, Saturday night, kids will get out to meet their friends, to socialise, go from house to house,” she said.
“A few years ago, in the lead up to the killing of Elijah, one person in particular on social media said he was going out on the streets taking his dogs, to get them onto the Indigenous youth.
“He even gave the street names. I drove out there, I was pretty concerned, and saw three boys on one of those streets – and warned them, two were going to a friend’s place and the other one was going to meet his girlfriend in another suburb so I took him there. They were quite scared,” she said.
“It’s not right that our youths can’t walk the street without being fearful and without being harassed. We still have middle aged white men in 4WDs chasing our youth.”
Ms Carmody said using cameras to film young people walking or meeting with friends in the street is “is indecent” and has the potential to be defamatory.
“It brings up the issue of cyber bullying. These security companies post their stories online. On social media and people start commenting, openly discussing First Nations youth and their families in derogatory ways, through stereotypes and racism,” she said.
“First Nation youth have the right to live in freedom, move freely within their lands in a peaceful and safe way. This surveillance is aimed at First Nation youth even if they don’t say it, we all know very well that it is. It is a fundamental human right to move freely in public space and not be harassed.”
Ms Carmody noted that prior to the cameras, Indigenous people in Kalgoorlie are already overly scrutinised by private security staff.
“Two weeks ago, at about 5pm, a [private security] guard was closing the gates at the park… My sister happened to be driving by and saw that there were three Indigenous boys walking one way nearby and two walking the other way, they stopped outside the park and were having a chat.
“The security guard got out of his vehicle and told them to get out of the park, they said they were not in the park and he told them to move on. What authority does he have to tell them to move on?”
She mentioned an incident two years ago in which she saw an Indigenous family told by police to move on while they were having a picnic at a park, and a white family also in the park were not told to move on.
“The white people were sitting there safe and secure in their knowledge that their whiteness gave them protection, and this Black family was being moved on. It does happen everywhere, but this town is a special sort of town, it is like being in the deep south of the USA,” she said.
“We are all guilty until proven innocent.”
“No wonder we walk with our heads down. We are constantly being told how bad we are, for 200 years. If you keep telling people who bad they are, some will act up – but for the most part, our youth don’t act badly.”
Ms Carmody said that when Kalgoorlie Police said that the crime rate in the area has not risen, and is “no different to how it has always been”, the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, security companies and general population “refuse to accept it”.
“They have got it in their heads that Black youth are bad,” she said.
“One councillor has been going on for years about boot camps to be set up out in the desert so we can ship Indigenous youth off there if they steal a loaf of bread. This is how hostile it is… The mayor a couple of years ago [in 2016] said Indigenous youth should be caned if they steal.”
She said little had changed since early colonial days, when “if Indigenous people were not out of town by 6pm they would tie them up [at the top of Hannan Street] and whip them.”
Asked about the use of cameras by private security companies and racial profiling, Acting CEO of the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder Alex Wiese told National Indigenous Times “the City has no control over the security cameras operated by private businesses and cannot comment on the use of them.”
He noted that “the City does not support the act of racial profiling.”
In regards to the existing fixed CCTV cameras within the Kalgoorlie Police Precinct, Mr Wiese said “any requests for recorded footage must be submitted to the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder.”
“Recorded footage may be released under the Freedom of Information Act… WA Police has exclusive access to the security camera footage of all public areas throughout the City. The private security companies merely provide the infrastructure and system for the [fixed] camera network.”
WA Police told the National Indigenous Times that “Kalgoorlie Police are aware of the cameras being referred to, which are proposed to be owned and operated by a private security company.”
“Kalgoorlie Police would not own any vision that is recorded, nor would they monitor or have direct access to any of the vision.”
On the subject of security cameras in general, WA Police said security companies and members of the public who equip their vehicles with a video camera “are all bound by the same laws associated with using a recording device in public.”
“Should the video cameras capture anything relating to local crime or other police business, Kalgoorlie Police will welcome any vision that supports an investigation or prosecution, just as officers regularly appeal for and receive CCTV, dash-cam and mobile phone vision from members of the public,” they said.
National Indigenous Times understands that WA Police would not be interested in the footage shot by private security companies unless it related to a criminal matter, and that Kalgoorlie Police have not been approached by the security company in question.
National Indigenous Times contacted MCM Protection for comment on Monday morning.
By Giovanni Torre