Digital Civil Society Lab

Legitimizing True Safety


The centuries long conflation between safety and security has helped propel society down a trajectory prohibiting numerous opportunities for visionary resistance to societal ills.

Because of a long legacy of racially driven, reactive policies, including with the use of facial recognition technology, tens of thousands of Detroiters and other black and brown communities have suffered the brunt of targeted mass surveillance and methods of security as a means of safety, in lieu of investment towards housing, public education, recreation, transportation and affordable water.

In Detroit specifically, a prolonged dominant negative narrative has profiled the city’s residents as inherently dangerous and incapable of self-determination. The fact that the city suffers great economic poverty, i.e. a medium income of less than $27,000 per year is rarely considered. What is also rarely considered is the history of disruption and destruction of viable black led communities through the leveling of neighborhoods for freeways and other forms of imminent domain. Because of this, greater efforts are needed to reinforce opportunities that create true safety, outside of increased policing and mass surveillance, including facial recognition systems.


This project seeks to create tools and organize initiatives for systematizing true safety by minimizing the conflation between safety and security, countering the public safety narrative which has become synonymous with surveillance and activating opportunities for visionary resistance.


This work will leverage existing networks, foster research, generate learning materials and resources, and organize initiatives focused on highlighting racial disparities in digital technology while fostering critical thinking around safety vs. security and surveillance. These activities and resource materials include, but are not limited to:

  • Creating a toolkit for safety vs. security and surveillance living room discussions
  • Organizing a series of discussions around safety vs. security – with greater emphasis on alternatives to surveillance
  • Producing a zine that lifts up community members’ stories of calling on one another, in lieu of leveraging surveillance technologies as protection and safety
  • Creating various blogs and other forms of media rooted in research, fostering critical thinking around race, its relationship to technology and alternative visions centered in equity

The goal is to continue the work of emphasizing digital and data literacy in Detroit, particularly around the impact of racialized narratives and how those narratives drive digital technology and the extraction of data in the city. The goal is also to increase community engagement around legislative policy and advocacy regarding digital technologies in the city.

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