El Grito de Sunset Park: Police Violence Video Database
The WITNESS and El Grito partnership is a collaborative effort to create practical, innovative and sustainable ways to tell the story of police abuse with impact.
We created a Use Case Study, Profiling the Police, to illustrate how video and open source data gathered by local groups can show systemic abuse and lack of disciplinary measures by the NYPD, and help shift mainstream narratives away from the “one bad apple” theory that frames police violence as a problem with individual cops, rather than a systemic issue.
The work here represents the first phase of creating an ongoing curation and archiving practice that will continue to evolve for El Grito, and serve as model for other copwatch groups, or anyone managing eyewitness videos to expose human rights abuses. Through meetings with El Grito and other stakeholders, we concluded we’d work with a small sample of El Grito’s video to create:
- practices and workflows for ongoing management of the El Grito archives
- create a new, compelling way to tell the story of police abuse in Sunset Park
- create a metadata model for describing videos of policing incidents and misconduct
- create a curation “toolkit” of our research, step-by-step instructions, scripts, spreadsheets, etc. from this project for El Grito and others to manage their ever growing video collection.
POLICE VIOLENCE IN THE U.S.
A survey of four recent cases in the U.S. — and several around the world — challenge assumptions about the role of video in attaining accountability for abuse, and point to ways filmers, advocates, journalists, and the justice system can use video effectively for change.
A case study exploring the safe and ethical use of perpetrator video for human rights advocacy, and as a new source of data showing the prevalence of transphobic violence.
PROBLEMS WE’RE SOLVING FOR
New York State civil rights law (Section 50-a), and similar laws across the United States, prevent public access to city police officer records, including complaints of misconduct, legal documents and disciplinary measures. Lawyers, journalists and advocates often have to rely on local sources to provide stories and eyewitness documentation about misconduct complaints. This project aims to show alternative ways to bridge these information gaps and support advocacy efforts to make this information more accessible.
Additionally, the challenges of managing large collections of human rights videos and datasets are universal. What we’ve learned is that there is no “one size fits all” solution for managing these assets safely, ethically and in a way to tell marginalized stories with impact. But, we believe there are best practices and through this work we have developed tools and methodologies that we hope can be used and adapted by others facing these challenges.
This work also supports community-led efforts to document and preserve important local history around police misconduct, which is often lost, dismissed or forgotten.
HOW WE DID IT
As a starting point, we focused on a small sample of videos captured during the Sunset Park Puerto Rican Day Parade — an event that has been met with recurring police brutality. Review of these videos showed that certain officers were, and are, repeatedly involved in violent altercations with the community year after year. With further digging into three of those officers we found that they were involved in abusive incidents beyond the Puerto Rican Day Parade. We substantiated these encounters and complaints with legal documents, public data, and media reports.
We collaborated with key stakeholders including other copwatch groups, archivists, data scientists, journalists, attorneys and advocacy organizations. This informed the development of the methodologies and tools shared here for collecting, curating, corroborating, analyzing, and visualizing eyewitness video as a data source to expose patterns of discrimination and abuse.
This project is the second in a series of Use Case Studies that document how collections of eyewitness video can be used as a source for powerful storytelling, provide data, and reveal patterns of discrimination and abuse.
Our first Use Case Study, Capturing Hate, analyzed eyewitness videos of violent acts against transgender people that are being filmed, shared, and engaged with as entertainment. The study tells a powerful and disturbing story of the abusive and often life-threatening environments that transgender and gender nonconforming people navigate daily. And, it details practices for safely and ethically using perpetrator video to expose abuse.