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

Team members: Catherine Caruso, Kendra Pierre-Louis, Tiffany Wang
Download Class Presentation

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)?


By: Argyro Nicolaou, Jyotiska Biswas, and Tiffany Wang

The Boston Police Department and the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) commissioned a report about Boston “Stop and Frisk” incidents that was released on June 15, 2015. This report contained data about so-called FIO (Field Interrogation and Observation) incidents between 2007 and 2010, and many of the findings point out the disproportionate amount of African Americans that have been stopped on the streets. We used the Boston Police Department FIO data, focusing on the years 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, in order to show that despite the decrease in FIO reports between 2008 – 2013, the disproportionate targeting of young male African Americans, especially in certain areas, continuesOur audience is the residents of the Mattapan, Dorchester and Roxbury neighborhoods and anyone that frequents Blue Hill Avenue – a major road connecting all three. Our goal is to embody the experience of being stopped and frisked and also to humanize the people who make up the statistics in the BPD data.

Our campaign involves a site-specific intervention all along Blue Hill Avenue. We decided to focus on Blue Hill Avenue, where 6% of all stop and frisk incidents between 2011 and 2014 happened. Using the maps that illustrate the specific locations of FIO reports (people that have been stopped), we envisage placing big blue dots on the sidewalk, each representing a stop & frisk incident from 2011 – 2014, on the very spot that the FIO incident happened. These dots would feature some basic information for each FIO subject: race, date, age, and gender. On these dots is also a QR code that is scannable and will lead to the campaign website, where the ACLU Report along with other data will be featured. 

We created several maps using Tableau to visualize the distribution of stop and frisk incidents amongst certain races; we focused on three main races: African American, Hispanic, and White. We did not include 2015 data since the data for 2015 in the FIO data set only contained a couple of months of stop and frisk data. In the distributions we mapped for the four years, it is pretty clear to see that there a significant amount of African Americans being stopped, even though only 25% of Boston’s population in 2010 were African Americans. Furthermore, the maps show that S&F incidents have not decreased, and that they continue to be distributed in pretty much the same way.Race Distribution by Year

As seen on the maps from each of the four years, there were two streets that clearly had more stop and frisk incidents. This is what motivated our choice of Blue Hill Avenue for this campaign. Blue Hills Ave and Dorchester Ave.

Future Improvements include: (1) Normalize/control data results for crime rate, gang membership, previous offenses and other variables (2) Replicating the experience on Dorchester Avenue (3) Think about a further call to action when people get on the website.

See our slideshow here.

Opening Up Stop and Frisk

By: Maddie Kim, Julia Appel, Felipe Lozano-Landinez, and Iris Fung

The data show Stop and Frisk incidents and crimes reported in Boston in 2012 from the ACLU, reported crimes from the City of Boston Open Data Portal from 2012, and demographic data from the American Community Survey from 2007-2011. We created a scrollable op-ed piece piece similar to one you might see in the New York Times Upshot section, or on the Boston Globe’s website. (The title of our newspaper is “The Boston Times.”) 

To that end, our intended audience is informed and politically engaged readers of a major Boston newspaper. Our goal is to communicate our findings about the incidence of Stop and Frisk incidents and crime reporting, and to convince readers that timely release of data on Stop and Frisk is imperative for maintaining accountability among the Boston Police Department for fair and just policing practices. With a policing practice as controversial as this one, and as open to potential racially and demographically motivated abuse as this one has proven itself to be in other cities, clear and transparent accountability via open data release is an absolute necessity. Our call to action is to for readers to demand that Stop and Frisk data be open to the public. It is a bit more subtle than in past projects, because we felt like the medium in which we were working (a large, trusted, objective news source) would not run an op-ed piece with a very explicit call to action (like, for example, signing an ACLU petition). Rather, we tried to let the data speak for themselves via the maps and captions, and then guide the reader towards our call to action with the accompanying text. We think this is an appropriate way to tell this story because it combines the visual impact of a map with the context provided by our accompanying analysis and opinion text. This feels especially important with this dataset, because of the sensitivity demanded by policing activities, and the nuance involved with parsing, cleaning, and combining the three datasets. We felt a cohesive news story would be the best way to give the topic the context, ethical integrity, and thoughtfulness it deserves. Further, we felt that formatting our project as an opinion piece allowed us to communicate our goals and call to action to an audience that would likely be receptive to it.  

The first part of our project development process was completion of background research on Stop and Frisk; we looked at other cities that have successfully utilized open data on Stop and Frisk to make positive changes to policing practices. Next, we coded all the Stop and Frisk incidents included in the dataset by neighborhood using the BPD District ID code from each report, and mapped each incident. Then we downloaded, cleaned, and coded crime report data from the BPD according to the same scheme as the Stop and Frisk data, and plotted the two data sets onto the same map. The results were surprising: there were some discrepancies in incidences of crime and Stop and Frisk incidents. Stop and Frisk is a policy that is meant to make policing more efficient, so we expected to see correlations between crime reports and Stop and Frisk incidents. From there, we chose two neighborhoods, one with high Stop and Frisk incidents (Mattapan), and one with high crime (West Roxbury). We compared the demographics of each neighborhood — racial composition, median income, unemployment — to see if those metrics had any correlation with the discrepancies we noticed. In our article, we bookend our maps and charts with text that expresses our article’s thesis: open data on Stop and Frisk will make the Boston Police Department more accountable to the City’s citizens, and help enforce policing practices that are not racially or demographically motivated, but rather are motivated by actual crime incidence.

Stop and Frisk is a controversial policing policy: proponents view it is a proactive way to patrol the streets and decrease crime, while objectors see it as racist, and a plain violation of human and civil rights; both a cause and an effect of a corrupt and unjust criminal justice system. Regardless of your opinion on the policing practice, one thing is certain: transparent compilation of data is an absolute necessity to ensuring that the public has accurate information and can hold the Boston Police Department accountable for their actions.

Here’s another link to our article.