Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
The activists behind the project aimed for a comprehensive national snapshot of police violence.
This week the U.S. Department of Justice released a blistering report following an investigation of the Ferguson Police Department. The report included a long and (to some) shocking list of discriminatory police practices. But discrimination and police violence aren't limited to one police department, and a team of social justice activists has created an interactive map to demonstrate how pervasive such practices are across the United States.
The map shows that police violence disproportionately targets black men on a national scale. Or, in the words of data analyst Samuel Sinyangwe, one of the map's creators, it shows "that Ferguson is everywhere."
Sinyangwe and his fellow activists have been compiling information and resources to help support the #blacklivesmatter movement on the ground. In the process, they realized that a comprehensive national snapshot of police violence was missing—guided in part by articles from Reuben Fischer-Baum of FiveThirtyEight, who has argued that official figures on police killings aren't reliable.
Using non-governmental databases highlighted by Fischer-Baum, including Fatal Encounters and Killed By Police, Sinyangwe and his collaborators estimated that there were 1,175 total police killings in 2014. They then sorted the records by race and found that 302 of the deceased were black—or 26 percent of the total. That's an overrepresentation of African Americans, who make up 13 percent of the general population.
"In terms of comprehensiveness, our estimate is that [the data] is capturing at least 90 percent of all folks who are killed by police in 2014," Sinyangwe tells CityLab.
Black people—particularly young, black men—were more likely to be killed by police in certain parts of the country than in others. To Sinyangwe, such data dismantles the argument that police violence is simply a response to black-on-black crime, because levels of police violence vary between regions with similar crime rates and shares of black population, he says.
The map site also has a tool to compare different police departments so protestors can make more sophisticated arguments against naysayers, wherever they are in the country:
Sinyangwe hopes the project will help convince doubtful parties that there's a problem with police brutality in the United States compared with other developed countries—one that disproportionately affects black people. The animated map fills in police violence by geography over the course of 2014. "Being able to see that unfold over the year communicates the level of urgency in a way that statistics don't," he says.Take a look at the map: