Bluhm Legal Clinic Continues its Lawyering and Race in the 21st Century Series


Social Justice Bluhm Legal Clinic Faculty

In November, the Bluhm Legal Clinic continued its series on Lawyering and Race in the 21st Century with the event “Surveillance Redlining in Chicago: ShotSpotter, the Gang Database, and other Surveillance Tools.” The hybrid discussion, co-sponsored by the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, was held in the student area of the Clinic and broadcasted on Zoom.

Alexa Van Brunt, clinical professor of law and director of the MacArthur Justice Center, organized the 75-minute discussion on the ways surveillance in Chicago disproportionally affects Black and Brown individuals, specifically the controversial history of the independent surveillance company, ShotSpotters, and the Chicago Gang Database. “Law enforcement frequently uses surveillance in ways that violate the constitution and state law,” said Van Brunt. “Yet despite instances of rampant abuse, the manor by which the government pays for and uses such technology is often shrouded in secrecy.”

The Gang Database is the Chicago Police Department’s collection of data for everyone in the City of Chicago that they suspect is a gang member. As of 2018, there were over 161,000 people in the database, at least 33,000 were juveniles and 95 percent were Black or Brown. “That number has only increased since then,” said Vanessa del Valle, clinical associate professor of law at the MacArthur Justice Center. “Officers have unlimited discretion. Once you’re in the Gang Database, you can’t get out.” She continued, stating that CPD doesn’t even need confirmation to add anyone to the database. In 2018, the MacArthur Justice Center filed a federal class action lawsuit against the City of Chicago and CPD on behalf of the individuals in the database. The lawsuit was resolved in early September 2020, with the plaintiffs winning significant protections including stricter criteria for entry into the database, a removal after five years of no criminal activity, and receival of notice if in the database.

Jonathan Manes, attorney at the MacArthur Justice Center, presented the ways in which Shotspotter, a gunshot detection system, has falsely detected gunshots in minority communities across the city. In a study conducted by the MJC between July 1, 2019 through April 14, 2021, 88.72 percent of Shotspotter alerts did not result in police recording any kind of incident involving a gun, says Manes. “Despite that, the City and prosecutors have been using this as an integral part of law enforcement.”

Other panelists included Alyx Goodwin, deputy campaign director at Action Center on Race and the Economy; Xanat Sobrevilla, organizer with the Organized Communities Against Deportation; and Michael Williams, a MacArthur Justice Center client who was unjustly incarcerated as a result of the Chicago Police Department’s reliance on ShotSpotter. He continues to serve as an advocate against unjust police surveillance in the City of Chicago.

To learn more about the MacArthur Justice Center’s Shotspotter study, click here.

To learn more about Chicagoans for an End to the Gang Database v. City of Chicago, click here.