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NY Suicide on Web Site Prompts Calls for Controls
Thu Apr 8, 2004 04:10 PM ET
By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A grisly surveillance video of a man's suicide that appeared on a pornographic Web site prompted calls on Thursday for tighter controls on the use of security cameras in New York's low-income housing.
The image of a distraught Paris Lane, 22, shooting himself in the head was captured on film in a Police Department surveillance system that lacks safeguards for privacy, experts and the victim's family said at a hearing on the case.
"I'm not against surveillance cameras," said the victim's mother Martha Williams. "But I do have a problem with who handles the tapes, the hands they fall into.
"My child was killed twice," she said. "The first time he did it to himself. The second time, online did it to him."
The grainy footage shows Lane in the lobby of a public housing apartment building on March 16, hugging a girl, putting a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger.
Lane, who wanted to be a rap star, was despondent because his girlfriend was breaking up with him, police said.
Since then, the images of the suicide appeared, were taken off and reappeared on a Web site filled with violent and racially offensive images under a heading, "Introducing: The Self-Cleansing Housing Projects."
"It goes on, comes off, goes on. It's a joke," said Lane's mother. "That's why something has to come out of this hearing. I want my son's tape off that Web completely."
Police say the case is under investigation. Sources told the New York Post earlier this week they tracked the tape to a computer account of a suburban police officer who said he got it in an e-mail from a friend.
At the hearing sponsored by Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, a former police officer who worked in the security unit testified the cameras help lower crime but officers receive no training to deal with privacy issues.
"If anything, this case clearly demonstrates the need for more safeguards," said Hiram Monserrate, the former officer who is now a member of the New York City Council.
The city uses about 3,100 cameras in low-income housing where some 5 percent of the population lives, said Beth Haroules, an attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union. Nearly all those people are minorities.
"Approximately 434,000 New Yorkers -- low or moderate income New Yorkers of color -- will be subject to NYPD surveillance," she said. "This is a shocking number."
She said cameras provide security, but, "it is critical that there be safeguards to ensure that people who live in public housing projects are not compelled to give up their privacy."
Lane's family has hired lawyers to decide how to proceed with possible legal action against the city.