Surveillance Camera at the Reservoir at Druid Hill Park

Surveillance Camera at the Reservoir at Druid Hill Park

So, this is a post about what I saw running yesterday, not what I saw on my bicycle. I am training for a half marathon that I will run by myself in seven weeks, and Thursday was my mid-week short run, four and a half miles. I can’t believe that counts as a short run to me, especially because it takes so long for me to complete. I’m a slow poke–speed comes with time, and I’m giving it time. That said, I’m faster and I recover more quickly from a run than I ever thought possible. Consistent effort over time, as my father would say. Makes all the difference.

The other thing that makes a big difference is weather. I barely made it through a 5K on Sunday, had to stop twice, thought I might puke. The difference? The sun. It was warm and sunny on Sunday, but Thursday was cool and overcast, and I felt like I was just cruising. It’s a magical feeling when things come together and a run feels good, and that’s what yesterday was like.

I didn’t have much of a plan for a route, other than to run by a mailbox to drop my ballot for the 7th congressional district special election, so after I ran the two blocks there I zig zagged to avoid pedestrians and red lights until I was heading down 29th toward Remington. I’d saw a tweet about the Big Jump on Twitter that morning, so I decided to take my run there and enjoy some car-free protected running space.

The Big Jump took a lane of traffic from Druid Hill Park Lake Drive and the off ramp from I83 onto 28th Street and gave it to bicyclists and pedestrians. It used to be really hard to get from points east of I83 to West Baltimore, or from West Baltimore to Druid Hill Park, without a car. Now there’s this protected path. Lots of drivers hate it because losing a lane means congestion, but I have little sympathy for cars and their drivers when so much of our built space is set aside just for them. Give us this one place, please.

I was happy for it on my run, slowly jogging up the hill against traffic, along with a few pedestrians and a couple of bicyclists. It feels like running on the freeway at some points, because you’re kind of running on the freeway. Maybe not the best view, but I found it strangely calming to run in their opposite direction.

And then I hopped off and into the park to do the half loop we can still do as they continue the never ending construction at the reservoir. There’s so much space up there, and it was fairly empty, and I knew it was mostly downhill from there. I stopped briefly to catch my breath and snap this picture of one of the surveillance cameras set up along the reservoir. It has been there as long as I can remember, one of several that keeps the whole thing under eyeballs at all times, assuming the cameras work and aren’t just operating on total panopticon effect.

I barely notice these cameras at this point. I’ve been around the reservoir a zillion times, and they’re just background. As I continued my run I thought about the ways the surveillance state is extending its reach during this lockdown period. Baltimore City’s new police surveillance planes are taking off next week, cameras on all of us all the time. They don’t violate our privacy because we will just be tiny specks, and tracking any individual’s specific movements would be really hard.

The thing is, just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it won’t be done. And once the capacity to do that tracking is there, it can be activated at any time.

There is a lot of talk about tracking all of us right now. Testing and contact tracing are important to understand how COVID-19 is spreading, and to contain it. These are keys to opening up parts of the world. We’re already seeing maps of aggregate cell phone data to suggest where people are abiding by stay at home orders, and where they are not. We’ve been being tracked, and now we’re going to be asked to be tracked even more specifically. We’ll be told our information is not stored, or that we are only tracked when it’s necessary for public health, but the systems can be used differently. I’m not a tin foil hatter, but I do think that expanded surveillance by the state has some terrible side effects, ones borne inordinately by some groups over others.

And yet. What choice do we have? We have to save lives, as many as possible. And we have to turn parts of our society back on. There is death in the lockdown, too. There’s not a lot of rhetorical space to talk about that part, because to breathe it seems to be putting yourself on the side of the Bad Governors, but it’s true. The lockdown cannot go on until the risk is zero. So here we are. I hope we can be critical and can resist where systems ostensibly meant to save us extend the reaches of the carceral and the deadly.

And then I rolled down the hill and out of the park, zig zagged around Charles Village for a bit, and hit my mileage just a couple blocks from home. Running is improving my sense of how far apart things are from each other. Miles and miles around the same neighborhood, month after month, so much fading into the background. I have to keep reminding myself to see.

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