Visualizing Big Data, Resisting Criminalization

Visualizing big data sets with easy-to-read illustrations can help tell a story and make complex data easier to understand by more people.

Earlier today at the Graduate Center a panel of experts discussed a range of visualizations that may help in efforts to resist and transform criminalization.  The panel was moderated by Evan Misshula, Data Visualization Fellow with JustPublics@365.

In her presentation,“Data Visualizations in the Newsroom,” Amanda Hickman, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, shared some of the ways that she teaches aspiring journalists to dive into data.  Given that journalists are doing the hard work of translating academic jargon into plain English, Hickman also made a plea for the academics in the audience to avoid “academese.”  She closed by offering this list of resources, including a link to the course she teaches at the J-School:

Following next on the panel were María Elena Torre and Scott Lizama,“Visualizing Stop and Frisk Data” Morris Justice Project and the Public Science Project.  María and Scott presented work on their community-engaged project in the Morris Avenue section of the Bronx.  They have been meeting every Saturday for several years to collect, compile and visualize data with the Morris Justice Project, which is a collection of community members, academic researchers, and activists. Most of the data they are compiling has to do with the stop-and-frisk policing of the NYPD.  Working with members of the community, they have created a range of visualizations of this data from fairly high-tech mapping illustrations to what they described as “very low-tech, pen-and-paper illustrations.”

The final member of the panel was Sabrina Jones, a graphic artist, Brooklyn, NY who talked about her work illustrating “Race to Incarcerate: A Graphic Re-Telling” based on Marc Mauer’s academic, no-picture text Race to Incarcerate.

Race to Incarcerate Graphic Re-Telling Cover Illustration
Participants in the Summit’s Invited Round Tables earlier this morning were given complimentary copies of Jones’ book. Jones discussed her influences from art history, to classical Greek mythology, to contemporary artists.  When asked about how she imagined her work contributing to social change, she responded, “I’ve already seen it create change when people who’ve been incarcerated read it and realize, ‘it’s not me, I’m part of a larger system, and there’s a movement to resist.’ ”

All the panelists talked about the need to work collaboratively with others to create work that connects to broader audiences and transforms social inequality.  As María Elena Torre put it, “we’re able to work for change because we work in solidarity.  We come together with people who are good at what they do, like displaying things on the sides of buildings…” referring to The Illuminator who displayed some of their data on the side of a public housing project in the Bronx. Torre continued,”And, we work in solidarity with people in communities who are experts at the lived experience of what it means to be stopped-and-frisked thousands of times.”

The archived livestreamed video of the event is here.  To follow soon, we’ll post a more polished video recording of the panel discussion.