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Grand Rapids NAACP leaders fear Biden gun control plan could add discriminatory PD surveillance

Posted at 10:00 PM, Jun 30, 2021

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Grand Rapids NAACP leaders worry President Biden's gun control and anti-violence plan could unfairly target brown and black community members.

Biden's plan is encouraging cities to us COVID relief funds allocated through the American Rescue Plan. Biden's plan suggests that the money allocated in this manner can be used to hire additional law enforcement officials or pay overtime where the funds are directly focused on advancing community policing strategies.

The money may also be used for enforcement efforts such as prosecuting gun traffickers, rogue dealers and address gun trafficking channels.

The plan also suggests cities can use the money to invest in technology and equipment to allow law enforcement to more efficiently and effectively respond to the rise in gun violence resulting from the pandemic. The NAACP is concerned it could give the green light to programs that target minorities rather than working with the community to reduce crime.

The city of Grand Rapids received over $92 million dollars in funds, and in the fall, the city had proposed using COVID relief funds to back a program called ShotSpotter. The program uses sensors set up throughout the city to alert 911 dispatch that a gunshot went off, initiating a law enforcement response.

Ultimately, the proposal did not pass, but the NAACP fears the money from COVID could reignite efforts to place surveillance technology such as ShotSpotter.

"All it's going to do is just encourage over-policing of those communities, which is ultimately going to lead to unnecessary deaths, unnecessary harms," said Attorney Carlton T. Mayers II, Policing Reform Advisor with the NAACP. "When you combine their pattern or practice of racial profiling, excessive use of force with that technology and tactics we know, for a fact that encourages over-policing, which ultimately results in the unnecessary deaths and harms of black and brown residents."

ShotSpotter was the program that notified police in the deadly officer-involved shooting in Chicago when an officer shot 13-year-old Adam Toledo. Critics say the program is unreliable and sends false alarms to the scene.

NAACP instead would like to see the funds allocated to community engagement initiatives such as a Citizen Advisory Committee that would consist of civilians, especially those from minority areas with a heavy law enforcement presence.

The committee would work with the Grand Rapids City Commission and Police Department to determine if new technology is needed and how to use them, if they are purchased. The NAACP also asks for mandatory public hearings prior to technology or surveillance purchases.

"The whole goal is to interact with law enforcement so that the community feels safe. So if you're listening to them, there's other ways that the money can better the community can help relations with the community, there are different steps, different programs that are needing funding that would also help the communities that they're trying to be involved in," said Gayle Harvey, Executive Director of External Relations for the NAACP.

FOX 17 reached out to both the city and police department. Both stated they don't comment on legislative issues but also added there are no current proposals to add additional surveillance in the area. They also stated they have no plans to propose the ShotSpotter technology for a second time.

If they do plan to enact other types of technology in the future, it would have to be put up for approval and discussion at City Commission meetings.

Mayers and President Cle J. Jackson of the Greater Grand Rapids NAACP Branch penned an op-ed following the announcement from the Biden Administration. It will be published locally as well as online. You can read it prior to print publication here.