The Spy Plane is a Tool of Voter Suppression

Baltimore does not need a spy plane for the safety of its residents.  It needs thoughtful, compassionate leaders who understand that a spy plane further alienates the mostly black, brown, and poor   communities that are its targets.  The spy plane is another tool of law enforcement to invade the community rather than help build it.  Its purpose is more aligned with the revelations of the Gun Trace Task Force, and the surveillance technology used to target political dissidents.  Rather than protecting these communities and making them safer by decreasing crime, it puts a bull’s eye on their backs and further alienates them.  Rather than being seen as valued residents by the Baltimore political leadership, these communities once again are confronted with the City leadership’s vision of them as “other.”

This alienation is a sophisticated form of voter suppression rather than community engagement.  The spy plane further marginalizes communities whose marginalization is historic. The message is they are the problem, not invasive government policing and the lack of government support for innovative programming and meaningful services. The message is their true safety is unimportant.  The spy plane says to the communities it targets that you are not one of us – you are alien.  It treats them like the enemy, not like a neighbor. The fact that Baltimore City was the last jurisdiction to receive paper ballots for the primary election – little over a week before ballots must be postmarked – reinforces its devaluing.  It is not seen as an important part of the democratic process.  This lateness confirms their votes are viewed as insignificant.

The spy plane is another tool in the arsenal of those who embrace the perspective of “tough on crime” – a perspective that has consistently been based on criminalization of black and brown people and has led to their increased incarceration in prisons that drain hope.  Those who are tossed into the punishment system are further alienated from the society, and their communities.  

The spy plane sends the message that these communities are enemy encampments, not important parts of Baltimore that need resources to thrive rather than more sophisticated tools of   legalized oppression.  It sends the false message to residents that their safety comes from invasive tactics from without.  It devalues the efforts of community members and those who support them from around the city and state to build a strong community through programs that enhance the residents’ well-being, programs such as  B-360 that uses young people’s interest in dirt bikes to teach usable skills and Kujichagulia Center, that focuses on public safety by working with youth, many of whom are at risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of violence.  These and other programs need to be supported by the City of Baltimore and its residents rather than deploying a spy plane that alienates them.  

The spy plane is an agent of voter suppression because it supports the view that community residents are powerless against the city’s infrastructure.  It supports the view that the community is unimportant.  If  it were important, members selected by the community would be at the table with decision-makers and members selected by the community would be part of a viable oversight Baltimore City Civilian Review Board   that has independent investigatory power  to ensure that law enforcement is actually protecting the community, not contributing to the crimes committed in the community.  If the community is seen as important the spy plane would be a discarded plan, not one that is being implemented in the very near future.  

 The spy plane is an agent of voter suppression because it steals any sense of belonging and says you are not a respected resident, similar to historic examples of voter suppression such as poll taxes.  It is an agent of voter suppression because it increases the likelihood that people will not participate in elections because it supports the view that they are not valued by the city and its leadership. This tactic of   voter suppression can be defeated by speaking out against the spy plane and standing up for community.  Voter suppression can be defeated by supporting those who value the community the spy plane targets in ways that build and heal rather than “spies” on these communities to their detriment.

Submitted by:

Barbara Arnwine, Esq.
Founder and President, Transformative Justice Coalition
1816 12th Street, N.W., Suite 410 
Washington, DC  20009


Curtis Cooper, Esq.
Maryland National Lawyers Guild
The Law Office of Curtis Cooper, LLC
1340 Smith Avenue, Suite 200
Baltimore, MD  21209

(410) 825-4030 (office)

(410) 207-0225 (cell)

Black and Brown Activism Defense Collective
Adjoa A. Aiyetoro, Co-Facilitator


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“To educate the masses politically does not mean, cannot mean, making a political speech. What it means is to try, relentlessly and passionately, to teach the masses that everything depends on them; that if we stagnate it is their responsibility, and that if we go forward it is due to them too, that there is no such thing as a demiurge, that there is no famous man who will take the responsibility for everything, but that the demiurge is the people themselves and the magic hands are finally only the hands of the people.”
― Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth