JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ark. — Gang violence plaguing Pine Bluff is spreading from the streets to social media, but at the same time it’s proving to be a key tool for law enforcement trying to stop the violence.
Music videos featuring suspected gang members flashing guns and drugs are easy to find online.
“I don’t wanna be around it, before I end up getting shot,” said Eriyah Whaley, a junior at Belair High School.
It’s a fear the 17-year-old can’t escape, saying she sees more gangs gangs taking their message digital which is fueling the violence. What’s more concerning to the teen, many of the posts flooding her social media feeds, feature her high school classmates.
“One side send threats to the other side,” Whaley added. “The killing is coming from the beefing and the gang that’s going on.”
Signs outside Belair High School include, “gang free zone,” pointing toward the problems spilling into classrooms.
“Guns, violence, gangs, drugs, the schools are not immune from it,” said Principal Eric Elders.
Elders is trying to stay a step ahead and keep the feuds out of the hallways. He says school computers are equipped with site blockers and students’ cell phones sealed in envelopes through the day, but he knows there’s only so much the school can control.
“It can pop off at any time and you don’t know to what degree it will pop off,” Elder said. “It’s survival of the fittest. They’re either going to be the prey or the predators.”
Online posts are opening a new page for law enforcement. Working undercover, Jefferson County Sheriff’s detectives don’t just infiltrate gangs, they’re using social media posts to solve cases.
“The message with a lot of them sending now a days is that we got guns and we gon use them. And they do,” explained one detective, who’s identity Fox 16 is keeping anonymous.
The detective says he spends hours monitoring Facebook, easily finding videos and pictures posted by suspected gangs. He says the posts can help him identify gang members, where they hang out, and even link their guns to crimes.
“It’s so easy. They’re blatant with it, they put it out there,” the detective added.
Every time Whaley logs on, she tries to avoid those posts, saying the memory of her classmates lost to this gun violence is a scary enough reality of the city she calls home.
“I wish they don’t do it before they end up dead. There’s too many teens getting killed,” she said.