The Super Bowl is coming. And, like so many other things in life, it is full of contradictions.
It is true all over the world that sporting events bring people together, connecting us emotionally in the drama of the moment. Years ago, I found myself hugging strangers at a high school basketball tournament when our team scored in the final second of the game to win the boys’ state championship. Following the Vikings’ last-seconds win over the Saints a couple of weeks ago, we found our usually not-sports-focused staff talking about the excitement of the game at our staff meeting. And, of course, we also mourned the loss to the Eagles.
But I cannot ignore other facts associated with professional football — the corporate control (that seeks to even limit the ability of players to protest), excessive spending (the $500 million in state and local money that supported the building of U.S. Bank Stadium) and the danger of head injuries (so glad my son stopped playing football after his junior year in high school).
As the Super Bowl approaches, and we hear of the increased police presence, rooftop snipers and cameras, the same sense of contradiction surfaces. This event will bring to our city the largest number of federal agents in Super Bowl history. In the wake of violence at events such as the Boston Marathon and the Las Vegas music festival, we are afraid. We want to be safe, but it is also important to ask: Do we want to be surveilled? And are we willing to acquiesce to high-tech surveillance functioning as modern-day profiling?
The Super Bowl buildup has drawn our attention to how the event will affect our lives during the 10 days of festivities. We have heard that the area surrounding the stadium will be cut off from public traffic, even displacing a homeless shelter within the secure perimeter around the stadium.
Light-rail lines will be limited to ticket holders who must go through security before boarding. There was an outcry when local residents learned they would not have access to the light rail during the designated time, so Metro Transit agreed to free bus service along those routes.
But even after the game is over and all of the visitors have left, the measures that we think of as security can remain — in the form of cameras, military-style equipment and a continued buildup of a culture of surveillance. Millions of dollars are spent at events like this to enhance security, and with new technology always being developed, high-tech security is growing more expensive and more intrusive.
When Brazil hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2014, the country was reported to have spent at least $900 million on everything from personnel to drones to facial-recognition goggles and more. Leading up to the Super Bowl in 2014, 200 security cameras were installed in midtown Manhattan. Planners for Super Bowl 50 in the Bay Area built on the existing surveillance infrastructure with new equipment “to ensure authorities are aware of all activity in the area, suspicious or otherwise.”
So much of this security is not visible that even if equipment is intended to be temporary, we don’t know what happens to it following the event. The 1,600-plus cameras installed for the 2004 Olympics in Athens are still being used.
Events like the Super Bowl then become an opportunity to bring surveillance technology into a community that might otherwise have rejected the cost or the invasion of privacy. Leading up to the event, Minneapolis police have been reluctant to share the extent of the security measures. After the event, we should demand more.
High-tech surveillance that is framed as security may seem like a good idea, especially for such a big public event. But as the people who live and work in the Twin Cities every day beyond Super Bowl Sunday, we deserve to know how we are being watched and why. The infrastructure is in place now. But does it have to stay?
We can take a page from another issue that has drawn our attention with the Super Bowl: human sex trafficking. In addition to monitoring the possibility of increased sex trafficking during Super Bowl weekend, community leaders know that we must address this issue every day. So advocates are using the attention the big event brings to this issue to educate our communities about sexual exploitation and the programs available to prevent sex trafficking and support victims.
Similarly, it is time for us to wake up to how our surveillance culture is creeping into our everyday lives. These tools are watching our communities and are part of our ever-expanding infrastructure of policing and profiling. Those who experience this profiling most — as has been our legacy — will be people of color and indigenous people, immigrants, Muslims, and those who continue to be targeted by both implicit and explicit bias.
I want the city to which we are welcoming people for the Super Bowl to represent something other than a culture of surveillance that, as our colleagues at the Center for Media Justice argue, targets and stigmatizes people based not on what they do, but who they are. The city we can be proud of living in every day, not just on Super Bowl Sunday, is one that welcomes people in, rather than one inflicts surveillance and discrimination.
Vina Kay is executive director of Voices for Racial Justice.