DemLabs blog

Source: Twitter

Police officers trample peaceful protestors in Houston. Police push 75 year old man to the ground and leave him bleeding in Buffalo.

How can these incidents of police brutality against protestors be quickly collected and shared? 

"The document itself, compiled by Lawyer T. Greg Doucette and mathematician Jason Miller, began as a thread on Twitter. Doucette started the effort with a tweet showing a horse-bound police officer in Houston knocking over and trampling a nonviolent protester. That video, which has now amassed more than 3.6 million views on Twitter alone, beget many more just like it. 

The response to videos on Twitter and Facebook is often dismissive because they seemed like one-time incidents separated by days or weeks, people had difficulty seeing the underlying systemic problems. According to Doucette, people would often respond to the videos by saying the victim "wasn't perfect" or "had a record" or "should have just complied," or would claim that the officer was "just one bad apple" or "has a hard job." Others would claim the video was "taken out of context.

As protests started across the country and police responded with force, it became easier for Doucette to show how common the problem is. Jason Miller has created a database of Police Brutality with tweets collected by Greg Doucette." - Mic

Sharing information
Such crowdsourcing is fast, scalable and easy to implement with mostly free software.
1. Information on a specific issue is collected from Twitter and Facebook 
2. It's reviewed and organized into a sharable Google Sheet
3. Different groups can use the data collected to create maps and other visualizations

DemLabs used publicly available data collected by Greg and Jason to create a searchable map with ArcGIS. The map shows description, tweets and videos of the incident. The map is freely sharable with this link and can be embedded in a website with this code.

<iframe width="300" height="200" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" allowfullscreen src=""></iframe>

 For instance, Greg's tweet about a incident in Fort Wayne is easy to find and review. "Also in yesterday's criminal justice news, police in Fort Wayne IN randomly pepper-spray unarmed citizens for sport."

As incidents of police brutality (unfortunately) pile up, it's helpful to have an easy way to search through them. Users enter the 'keyword' they are interested in the 'query' box and the system automatically finds all the incidents with that word in its description. In this example we searched for incidents of police brutality which involved a horse. (A special thanks to Julia Bayer at esri who helped me with this search function).

Take away
Such crowdsourcing can be applied to citizen reporting on social media about incidents racism, poor healthcare, voter suppression and other misconduct by officials.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant. When the police and other officials feel there is no accountability and a compliant news sources will hide their actions, then it is time for citizen reporting to collect and share the facts. Kudos to Greg, Jason and Manuchehr for collecting and building this database on police brutality.

Co-Founder, DemLabs

Please share this blogDemLabs, a project of the Tides Advocacy Fund, is a SF-based, progressive hub for ongoing technology and creative innovation with free and affordable apps. Donate here to support our work.

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DemLabs applies innovative technology and storytelling tools in service of democratic values. It lowers the barrier of funding for worthy candidates and non-profits by applying existing free/affordable solutions.