Team Members: Catherine Caruso, Mike Drachkovitch, Kendra Pierre-Louis
(Click the photo to read the article)
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:
- What if stop to and frisk victims were white and affluent?
- Why are we so concerned about one kind of crime (drugs) and not another (mass fraud)?