Affluent White Bostonians Unfairly Targeted by Stop and Frisk Practices…Mostly While Leaving SoulCycle

Team members: Catherine Caruso, Kendra Pierre-Louis, Tiffany Wang
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Screen capture from the satire website The Olive
Screen shot from the website that we developed for this project


This project builds on a previous project that combined a satirical Onion-style article with a fake map. Now, our piece appears on our own satirical website, The Olive, a nod to the real satirical website, The Onion. The satirical main text is annotated using Genius with real facts about stop and frisk practices in Boston.  It also includes a map that toggles back and forth between the real data and the satirical data. At the bottom of the article we include an explicit call to action, and a number of different options for learning more and getting involved.

We wanted to see if satire could be used to both inform, i.e. like real news, as well as possibly affect behavior.

The main dataset used in this report is used the Stop and Frisk (FIO) dataset that the Boston Police Department released after being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Catherine D’Ignazio provided us with a geocoded version of the dataset that we used to create maps. The data indicate that the areas with the highest density of stop and frisk incidents are also the areas with more people of color, and most people that are targeted by stop and frisks are black men. We also used US Census data to provide the community descriptors – median incomes, and racial demographics – of the communities mentioned in the article (both the satirical data and the real data), along with Catherine’s extensive knowledge of Gisele Bündchen and Tom Brady.

The website is hosted by GitHub and was created in Jekyll. The annotations were created in Genius, and draw from a combination of the ACLU report, Census dta, and the actual stop and frisk dataset. The satirical article includes the same stop and frisk statistics, but flips them so they apply to affluent, white citizens in Brookline and Milton. It also cites general race and income information for those neighborhoods. To avoid copyrighting issues, we included a photo of Gisele that is available for public use and photos of friends who agreed to be photographed for this project.

For the maps, we used cartoDB’s density map function to show the density of stop and frisk incidents happening in the areas around Boston. The density map split the data into seven different bins. In cartoDB, we altered the code to change the color scheme (cartoDB only has one inverted color scheme, which is from white to pink). We also created a manipulated map, where we flipped the color scheme, and used PowerPoint to add stop and frisk incidents to the Brookline and Milton areas. We used JuxtaposeJS to create a map with a slider that moves between the actual and manipulated versions.

To assess the efficacy of the website, we did a series of five informational interviews with people. In all of the interviews we asked a pre-question: ”

On a scale of 1-5,  with 1 being the least, and 5 being the most, how much do you know about stop and frisk practices in Boston?

If the respondent said three or higher, we followed up with the question:

On the same scale of 1-5, how problematic are current stop and frisk practices in Boston?

Then the interviewee would go through the website. We used a screen recording the website to see how the reader’s engaged with the website. Afterwards we asked them a series of informational questions:

  • How did this piece make you feel? (prompting questions if respondent asked for clarification: Did you think it was entertaining? Did you think it was surprising?)
  • What was your overall reaction to this piece?
  • How did the balance of humor and real facts work for you?
  • Did you notice the annotations and click on them while you were reading?
  • Could you tell the difference between the joke data and the real data?
  • Did you trust the real data?
  • Do you feel motivated to do something about this problem?
  • Which action at the bottom would you be most likely to take?
  • Did this article change your opinion of stop and frisk practices in Boston?

As a final information gathering mechanism, we installed google analytics on the site to track visitor behavior.

Sample of the Google analytics.
Sample of the Google analytics.

Once the site was completed, we encouraged people in our network – via email, facebook, and twitter – with connections to the Boston area to read the site. Some of the tweets used bitly to further allow for additional engagement tracking.

Goals & Audience

According to the ACLU, current stop and frisk practices in Boston are highly problematic-they disproportionately target people of color in low income neighborhoods. In fact, many people in these neighborhoods are subjected to so many stop and frisks that their daily lives are disrupted. Rather, than replicate them here below, you can find the complete statistics about stop and frisk practices in Boston in the annotation layer of our article.

Unfortunately, the individuals that are subjected to unfair stop and frisk practices often struggle to have their opinions heard by those in positions of political power who can actually change these practices.

Our goal with this project is to educate more people about stop and frisk practices in Boston. Specifically, we want to target people who have not been subjected to stop and frisk practices, and have not experienced racial or socioeconomic discrimination from law enforcement firsthand. In Boston, this includes middle to upper class Bostonians, many of them white, who may recognize the term stop and frisk, but know very little about whether or not it is a problematic practice. Because of their affluence, race, and status, people in this demographic tend to be in a greater position of power to bring about political change that can improve the situation.

To accomplish this goal, we wrote a satirical article that blends a light hearted, humorous fake news story with the facts about stop and frisk practices in Boston. We chose to incorporate the facts into the article as an annotation layer, where the reader can access them as pop-ups while moving through the article. The map toggles back and forth between a manipulated version that matches the satirical content of the article (where most stop and frisk incidents occur in Brookline and Milton MA) as neighborhoods with high numbers of stop and frisk incidents), and the real data (where stop and frisk incidents are concentrated in Dorchester and Roxbury, MA). The article appears on The Olive, a website we built that is targeted at the middle to upper class, white Bostonians that we want to educate about stop and frisk.

We used humor in our article as a strategy for achieving a higher level of engagement with our audience, and making readers more open and receptive to learning about the many issues with stop and frisk practices in Boston. We wanted to draw in readers that might not choose to read a serious article about stop and frisk, but would be willing to learn about it within the context of satire, and are in a position to actually do something about it. Finally, in the call to action section, we also took advantage of the personal story: although we were unable to interview someone directly for the development of the site, we embedded a video the ACLU of Boston did that told the story of Ivan, a Boston resident who has been stopped more than 30 times.

We also offer readers a number of options for taking action on this issue, ranging from the simplest (sharing the article on Facebook or reading more about it) to more involved (donating to the ACLU or signing a petition to Mayor Marty Walsh). We hoped that by offering so many options for taking action, we would encourage readers to engage at whatever level suits them.

Project Assessment

To assess our project, we conducted five semi-structured interviews with undergraduate students at MIT (in an ideal world, we would interview people in our target demographic, but within the constraints of this project, we went with who was available). Our readers included two white students and three asian students. Overall, most of our readers recognized the term stop and frisk, and knew what it was, but did not know any statistics about it.

Several of our readers laughed out loud while making their way through the article, and enjoyed the humor of the satire. Others did not find the article humorous, particularly those that weren’t familiar with SoulCycle. This dichotomy of reactions emphasized that humor is highly subjective, and challenging to use effectively for the purpose of appealing to a broad audience. Again, interviews with people in our target demographic would give us a better sense of whether or not the humor works within our target context.

One technical issue we encountered is that our subjects did not realize the highlighted portions had pop-up statistics associated them, and read the article without clicking on them. With more time and technical resources, we would either make the statistics so they popped up when the mouse hovered over the text, or have the first statistic pop up automatically to make readers aware of the annotation layer.

It is always difficult to get readers to actually take action after reading an article, but our strategy of offering different options seemed to work-our readers were diverse in action they were willing to take action: two said they would sign a position, two said they would read more information, one said she would like the BLM Facebook group.

An End to Stop and Frisk

Team Members: Catherine Caruso, Mike Drachkovitch, Kendra Pierre-Louis

(Click the photo to read the article)

Boston Map Base

Stop and Frisk_Final

The data say that the Boston Police Department conducted 152,230 stop and frisk actions from 2007 to 2010. Of those, 89,219, or 61.28%, were conducted on black people. Given that according to 2010 Census data, only 24.4% of Bostonians are black, blacks are 2.5 times more likely to be the subjects of a stop and frisk than their numbers would suggest. We want to tell this story because despite the evidence that black communities are disproportionately targeted by the practice, there has been little traction in reducing it in Boston, or in the many cities where the it occurs. Lower income communities of color like those targeted in Boston lack the political power to end the practice. Consequently, our audience is white Bostonians who have more political power and can act as allies on behalf of those communities. Our goals are 1) get them to empathize with the embarrassment and the disruption of being routinely stopped and frisked without cause and 2) recognize the absurdity of the practice, to a degree that they’re willing to learn more about it and take action

Summary: The Boston Police Department (BPD) engages in the controversial practice known as “stop and frisk,” where officers stop, stop, question, and frisk people for weapons, drugs, and other contraband without probably cause. Many consider the practice a violation of the fourth amendment which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. In Boston most stop and frisks occur in low income, majority black neighborhoods, which suggests biased policing, and leads to a negative impact on those communities.

“I’m talking about feeling safe,” said Charles Franklin who has experienced stop and frisk repeatedly in a 2015 Marshall Project.  Franklin noted, “The police driving up on us, because of some hearsay, and jumping out, that don’t make us feel safe. The police smelling every drink I drink, looking in my bag every time I come out the store, that don’t make me feel safe.”

The problem is that those who directly experience stop and frisk practices are often those with the least political capital to effect change. In a 2015 Demos Report, Heather C. McGhee notes that “…a campaign system dominated by a narrow set of donors who are overwhelmingly (at least 90 percent) white diminishes the importance of communities of color to our elected officials as a whole.”

When drugs were primarily seen as an issue rooted in the ‘deviance’ of inner city communities of color, drug policies were punitive – a 2010 Economist article noted that non-violent drug offenders were punished more harshly than perpetrators of armed rape. But as drug addiction moved to white, middle class communities, there was a movement towards less punitive measures, and a relaxation of drug laws. Perhaps if middle class white communities experienced stop and frisk, citizens in those communities would help to end the invasive practice.

Posing as Black Lives Matter based social justice organization, we created a satire Onion-style article targeted at middle class, white Bostonians. We took the 2007-2010 BPD frisk data, mapped it, and flipped the map based on census income data, so that the most frisked communities were no longer lower-income black ones, but higher income white ones.

We felt that creating an inverted map was a powerful way to challenge how readers implicitly condone stop and frisk practices. By flipping familiar geographic patterns, we hope to upend our readers’ understanding of the issue and subvert their expectations.

Our goal with the article was to use comedy to challenge people’s expectations of acceptable practice while also getting them to consider two key questions:

  1. What if stop to and frisk victims were white and affluent?
  2. Why are we so concerned about one kind of crime (drugs) and not another (mass fraud)?

Attack of the Chains?

By Catherine Caruso, Kendra Pierre-Louis and Tiffany Wang

Every year since 2008 the New York City based nonprofit, Center for an Urban Future has compiled a tally of the number of national retail chains located across the city. Underpinning their analysis is the unspoken assumption that retail chains are somehow a detriment to the fabric of the city. In that regards they have some support.

“The unintended consequence of their [chain stores] victories through the 1970s and beyond,” writes The Geography of Nowhere author James Howard Kuntsler in a 2013 post in the Huffington Post, “was the total destruction of local economic networks, that is, Main Streets and downtowns, in effect destroying many of their own livelihoods.”

A number of films, such as Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, associate chain stores, like McDonalds, Bed Bath & Beyond, Whole Foods, and Wal-Mart with the economic and cultural destruction of the communities in which they are located. In lieu of buying from national retailers, we’re told, that the best thing for local communities is to buy from local, independent retailers in what are called “buy local campaigns.”

There is some evidence suggesting that it may be better to buy local. In 2003 the Maine based Institute for Local Self-Reliance found that for every dollar spent at a local business, 45 cents stayed in the local community. Another nine percent stayed within the state. For chain stores, however, only 14 cents remained within the local community. The rest trickled out to the national management along with distance product suppliers. Their supposition does suggest that communities with chain stores would be economically stronger than those without them, and we wanted to see if this was the case in New York City.

We used Center for an Urban Future’s data on chain stores, and cross referenced it with income data to see if communities with higher incomes have fewer chain stores.

State of the Chains_Corrected

As you can tell, for the most part that’s exactly what we found. A few exceptions existed among middle income people but they’re within a reasonable margin of error. Generally speaking in New York City, if you make less than 44,000 dollars a year your neighborhood is going to be rife with chain stores, and if you’re making more than 84,5000 a year your neighborhood will have very little.

One word of caution: this doesn’t tell us why this correlation exists merely that it does exist. It could be that chain stores remove income from communities, or it could be cultural – a signal of gentrification is the emergence of local neighborhood shops. It could be that higher income individuals prefer to live in neighborhoods with fewer retail chains.

Kendra’s Activity Log 2/8/2016


  • Road the bus and the T: data tracked via swipes of my Charlie card
  • Google searched: number of article research, my minds own curiosity.
  • Podcasts: downloaded podcasts, iTunes for sure tracks how many podcasts I download and whether I’ve listened to them recently (If I haven’t it’ll stop downloading new ones of the same podcast).
  • General web surfing: link clicks.
  • Facebook: length of data sent through messaging, messages written but not sent, whose profiles I looked at, what content I liked, and what if any links I clicked on.
  • Sent emails: using Gmail and MIT’s web based outlook, recorded data on who I sent the message to (to help improve spam filters), likely the content of the message (checking for “trigger” words that indicate problematic content, either spam worthy or you know terrorist watch list worthy).
  • Twitter: made tweets, re-tweeted, and liked content.
  • What’s app message: messaged friend in Canada.
  • Gchat: number of people I chatted with, length of messages
  • Google map: location data ( I get lost a lot)
  • Netflix: streaming video data on what shows I watch
  • Plex: streaming video data on how many “home videos” I watch (I don’t sync my video data to metadata so it’s unclear how much Plex actually knows about the content of what I watch vs the quantity)Spam data (how successful was my spam filter)
  • Diet bet app: my weight.
  • Grocery shopping: consumer spending data recorded twice in this case, by the supermarket where I made the purchase and by my credit company which also tracks that data.
  • Phone call:  location data (based on the cell phone tower that my conversation pinged off of), duration of call, and whether it was domestic or long distance (it was domestic).
  • Youtube: which videos I watched, and which ones I watched to completion, also their ads – did I stick it out to the end or did I click on the countdown link. Uses the data to suggest other videos I’ll watch.
  • Pandora: which songs I listened to the end, which ones I liked, which songs I skipped, and which ones I asked them to never play for me again.

Basically, every waking moment of my lie is quantified except for what I eat, and my apartment’s thermostat. However, the electric company is tracking the kW of electricity my home is using, while the gas company is tracking how much gas I use.

The Zika Virus Explained

Vox, the news site that markets itself as the go to destination for explainer journalism, or journalism that breaks down the broader context of the news issues currently topping headlines, recently did an explainer article, using 6 charts and maps, on the zika virus.

Zika is a mosquito borne virus which, until recently had been of limited import. Though the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes that carry the virus have long existed in the West, including in the southern parts of the United States, zika only migrated to the Western Hemisphere in 2013. And, unlike malaria which is also carried by Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, zika is rarely deadly. In fact, people often don’t even know that they’ve infected either because they don’t show symptoms, or the symptoms – fever, rash, joint pain, or pink eye – are easily confused with that of other illnesses. Symptoms, if they occur, generally clear up within twelve days.

Still, Zika has spread incredibly rapidly in 2007 there were 14 cases diagnosed worldwide to an estimated 1.5 million in 2015. And in the areas zika has spread, so too has the increase in microcephaly in newborn babies. From the article:

The country has seen an unusual surge of Zika cases over the past two years — possibly after the virus arrived with World Cup travelers in 2014. Last year, more than 1.5 million people were affected.

Over that same period, Brazil has seen more and more newborns born with microcephaly, a congenital condition that’s associated with a small head and incomplete brain development. Normally Brazil gets several hundred cases a year, but since October 2015, health officials have reported more than 3,500 cases.

graph of incidences

According to the CDC, microcephaly is linked to seizures, a decreased ability to learn and function in daily life, feeding problems, hearing loss, vision problems, and developmental delays.

tiny head

As images of children with microcephaly has swept the web, panic has followed, with some countries telling women to delay pregnancy by as much as two years, and people – including women are who are not pregnant and don’t plan to be soon – cancelling planned vacations to affected areas.

The VOX article serves to temper those fears, with facts. The use of a drawn image of microcephaly  is good because it helps to visualize the issue without stoking panic. They also do a good job of pointing out that what is known is less frightening, and very narrowly impacts specific populations who should.

I also appreciate their tempering of the issue while pointing readers in a direction they should be concerned: everything suggests that at least in the United States currently, zika is manageable. There have been no domestic transmissions, but climate change is what likely allowed zika to spread so rapidly, and other more deadly diseases may be lurking behind it. Climate change is what we should really be afraid of.

zika countries

climate countries