This year, I am honoring Black History Month and Black freedom fighters in a special sub-series on The Data Are Alright. If you want to support this work, please join me in making a meaningful financial contribution to Black Girls Code and the Baltimore Algebra Project. By the way, if you are here for exclusively data how-to tutorials, I hope you’ll stick around! I have lots more coming your way.
I’m grateful to Jonathan L, Aya, Abbie S., Hannah L, Aaron S.M., and Miriam S.E., for workshopping this post.
What a gift it is to organize at a time when the Movement for Black Lives has so clearly and generously articulated a vision and policy platform. If you haven’t seen it already, I encourage you to set aside time to read through the platform, position papers, and policy briefs (also available in Spanish and French).
Even decentralized, viral, online movements like Black Lives Matter and Arab Spring have infrastructure and emerged from rigorous planning! Did you know that Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometei (Black Lives Matter co-founders) met each other at an organizing training with BOLD? Or that Arab Spring leaders studied Gene Sharpe’s writing on nonviolent revolution?
The “Black Lives Matter started on Twitter and went viral” parable is my generation’s version of “Rosa Parks just got tired one day.” Rosa Parks was a seasoned organizer, a life-long freedom fighter and the daughter of two activists. 12 years before her famous bus sit-down, Mrs. Parks served as the secretary of the local chapter of the NAACP. She went on to fight for civil rights and racial justice for decades to come.
I think it is important to recognize all of the behind-the-scenes relationships, coalition building, research, strategizing, training and organizing that lead to movements in the streets. I’m making the claim that social movements are not spontaneous. If this is true, then research and data skills become even more necessary! Here are 3 examples of projects I love – projects that uplift, expand and amplify demands for Black Lives Matter.
Mapping Police Violence
This visionary project from Sam Sinyagwe & team collects, confirms, and contextualizes data about police killing civilians with impunity. In their own words,
We cannot wait to know the true scale of police violence against our communities. And in a country where at least three people are killed by police every day, we cannot wait for police departments to provide us with these answers.
The maps and charts on this site aim to provide us with the answers we need. They include information on 1,131 known police killings – including 1,067 arrest-related deaths (according to Bureau of Justice Statistics definitions) as well as 64 unintentional, off-duty and/or in-custody deaths – that occurred in 2014. They also include information on 1,080 police killings in 2013, 1,131 in 2015, and 1,129 police killings in 2016. 93 percent of the killings in our database occurred while a police officer was acting in a law enforcement capacity. Importantly, these data do not include killings by vigilantes or security guards who are not off-duty police officers.
The website starts off with an animated map showing instances of police violence in 2017. Then, they go on to make meaning of these numbers with charts, infographics, trends and statistics. And if you visit the Unarmed Victims section, you can even “meet” some of the victims of police violence and learn about their stories (a humanizing element that I really want to lift up). I encourage you to explore the website (it’s incredibly user-friendly and comprehensive).
Gone But Not Forgotten
I had the pleasure of meeting the visionary textile artist and activist Rachel Wallis while she was in Philadelphia pursuing graduate study. Her collaborative quilt project Gone But Not Forgotten memorializes the names and stories of individuals killed by members of the Chicago Police Department since 2006 with hand-quilted squares and panels, each representing a different victim of police violence. In the artist’s own words:
Despite widespread public outrage about police killings and misconduct, and an ongoing Justice Department investigation into the Chicago Police Department,
there is no public record of individuals who have been killed by the police. Gone But Not Forgotten appears to be the most comprehensive public collection of information about who has been killed by the police in Chicago. The names, ages, and dates of death featured on the quilt panels, as well as the victim information sheets collected in the binders on display, were gathered through a combination of official police records, newspaper articles, and information from victims’ families. Many of the victims’ names and stories remain unknown.
What I love so much about this project is that it is a handmade memorial; a visceral, cathartic, and beautiful testimony. Also, her work is experiential – teaching new sewers the simple quilting stitches and bringing people together in quilting circles where guests could build community and read aloud the stories of victims of police violence. Perhaps this doesn’t strike you as a “data” project, but I think it has a home in this blog post. After all, what’s the difference between a quilt and an infographic? Okay, okay… I’m going to save that tangent for another post!
Diplomas and diplomacy
Finally, I want to lift up an organization doing original research and data collection – and attributing this critical work to the Black Lives Matter movement. The Schott Foundation is a national funder and advocate for public schools, restorative justice and wrap-around services for Black students. They regularly release reports on national, high school graduation success rates of Black youth. I love how they not only fund organizations & campaigns that directly support Black youth, but they also produce research reporting on data that no one else is effectively measuring (notice a theme here?!). In the researchers’ own words,
This variance [in graduation rates of Black youth] underscores the necessity for consistent annual federal, state, and local reporting of these data disaggregated by race and gender. We measure what matters, and because Black lives matter, the regular reporting of these data points matters. (emphasis my own)
I couldn’t agree more! Moreover, the Schott Foundation produces an online interactive map that gives visitors the opportunity compare and contrast states and districts with respect to key indicators of Black youth graduation success.
So, to answer my question, how can data amplify Black Lives Matter?
- By collecting and maintaining datasets, especially for things that have gone uncounted (like police killing civilians), especially at the request of movement leaders. This work is not glamorous, but it’s so so important.Caveat: let’s make sure to respond to what’s needed, and what’s already underway, before we re-invent-the-wheel or make resources that no one asked for.
- By expanding access to data and statistics in a way that is user-friendly.
- By contributing to movement messaging with facts and figures. Or backing up messaging and demands with research! See caveat above.
- By making meaning out of stories and information via data visualization, interactive websites, and more. If you have those skills (I don’t!), put them to good use!
- By introducing Black Lives Matter demands into math and tech spaces where they are not on the agenda.
Do you know of other projects to highlight or dimensions of this question yet to be explored? Don’t hesitate to comment on this post or write to me!