Shotspotter or Shot Callers :
Understanding Durham’s Gun Violence Dilemma
Min. Paul Scott
“Tappin’ my phone, never leave me alone. I’m even lethal when I’m unarmed. Cause I’m louder than a bomb.”
Louder than than a Bomb- Public Enemy
Gun violence is not a new issue in Durham. Since the mid 90’s, gang life has been an off and on topic that has captured national headlines. However, the acts of violence have become more consistent over the last three years. While public officials are debating over the correct solution, mothers are still fainting over caskets screaming, “NOT MY BABY !”
The primary solutions currently being propagated by the folk downtown are Shotspotter and “Shot Callers.”
Shotspotter is a technology that records gunshots so that law enforcement patrols can be dispatched in a more timely manner. Whereby, the “Shot Caller” solution is built on the philosophy that those with “street rep” will be the key to bringing peace to “the hood.”
The Durham community is divided over those solutions as both have sparked strong debates. Earlier this year, Mayor Elaine O’Neal suggested that one of the barriers to finding viable solutions to stopping gun violence was the distrust of the government that some citizens harbor. So, theoretically, building a relationship between city hall and shot callers may repair the fragile relationship. Recently, the debate over Shotspotter came to a boiling point during an emotional exchange between council members at the budget meeting.
The critics of Shotspotter have warned that it will lead to unwarranted surveillance of members of Black and Brown communities with a probable side effect of ,unnecessary ,arrests and harassment by law enforcement. While some may write this off as a case of extreme paranoia ,when put into a historical context it begins to become more clear.
Although, the term “ stop snitching” is usually used to shield those who terrorize their communities from prosecution, it can be traced back, historically, to the use of agents to spy on political activists.
There has been an alarming history of government surveillance on Black activists dating back to the early 20th century with the Bureau of Investigation’s spying on Marcus Garvey’s Univeral Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). During the McCarthy/Red Scare Era , activists such as Paul Robeson were targeted because of their Communist ties. This was followed by the COINTELPRO program by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies aimed at Black leaders from Dr. Martin Luther King to Malcolm X. The brunt of the program was leveled against the Black Panther Party for Self Defense which tried to organize street gangs against government oppression and police brutality. Also, according to Kenneth O’Reilly in his book , Racial Matters, during the 60’s/70’s the FBI hired a squad of “ghetto informants’’ to keep tabs on political activists in “the hood.”
In 1992, according to Uprising by Yusuf Jah and Sister Shah’ Keyah members of Los Angeles Street gangs accused the Feds of breaking up the gang truce that came after the LA Rebellion (Rodney King Verdict).
In more recent history, the outrage over the police involved deaths of Mike Brown, Breonna Taylor , George Floyd and others lead to government surveillance of what they termed “Black Identity Extremists”
Locally, Shotspotter is not the first initiative that has caused debate amongst Durham City Council members. In February 2020, there was a disagreement amongst members regarding the Durham Police Department’s use of “Gangnet’’ and gang databases, A similar technique was used in Los Angeles (CalGang) according to Michelle Alexander in her book, The New Jim Crow, which received criticism for, allegedly , stereotyping members of Black and Brown communities.
Also, further blurring the line between the surveillance of criminals and political activists is the fact that on the Durham Police Department’s website it states that they keep intel on both the criminal element and “radical groups.”
When you couple this with cases of police abuse nationally, the concern over Shotspotter seems less like a conspiracy theory and more like preventive maintenance.
Of course, no one is suggesting that every gang member is a future Fred Hampton or Huey P. Newton, but the comparison of surveillance methods must be ,critically , examined.
Most concerning for citizens is confusion over what public officials want them to actually do.
On one hand the message from city hall seems to be to work with “the streets” while simultaneously, on the other hand , law enforcement is asking citizens to work with them to gain intel on the streets?
If there is ,indeed , a distrust of the government the objections surrounding Shotspotter seem applicable as some consider it high tech snitching.
Regardless of the method, the Durham community is in agreement that something must be done soon or it’s gonna be a long hot summer. So, it is important for us to engage in these difficult discussions and to make sure all voices are heard, whether Pro or Con. However, if any group should have the final say , it should be the mothers and fathers who have lost their children to gun violence.
Yes, the Bull City needs healing, unfortunately, historically , in Black and Brown communities the cure has been worse than the disease…..
Min. Paul Scott is founder of the Black Messiah Movement. He can be reached at (919) 972–8305 or firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter @truthminista