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The Counted

The Counted

The Counted is a comprehensive database of the deaths by law enforcement in the United States during 2015 and 2016. It is a project run by The Guardian, a Pulitzer-prize winning journal that originated as British newspaper, and launched Guardian US in September 2011 based out of New York City. The Counted was a creation of Guardian US, and is run by an entire team of reporters, technical workers and editors both from the staff of The Guardian and from outside organizations. Along with their own research, the Guardian researchers utilize crowdsourced information to build and update their database of fatalities. The project is attempting to solve a failure by the United States government to provide any sort of record of police violence. In doing so, The Counted contributes to the larger discourse on law enforcement brutality and even racism in the United States.

The Counted is not intended as an academic pursuit, rather it is meant to inform the public of those whose deaths went unseen previously. Interestingly, The Counted is very much highlighted as a part of The Guardian, and does not live on its own homepage. If one attempts to go to www.thecounted.com, their browser will time out because the webpage does not exist. Rather, The Counted lives at the rather long URL https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2015/jun/01/the-count.... By incorporating The Counted into The Guardian, it gives the project the validity of a renowned news source. However, it also implies certain biases.

The Guardian is known to be left-leaning on the political spectrum, and by connecting the two, one could argue that The Counted has the same bias as well. This in turn may make more conservative readers more likely to dismiss the project and its findings, which hinders the ability of The Counted to serve as a comprehensive database for the general public. However, the project is quite easy to find as well. If one searches for “The Counted” on Google, the first link is the project itself, the second is an article by The Guardian about the project, and the following too are social media pages for The Counted. This is vital, because it allows a wide spectrum of people to find it easily just by the name of the project.

When one first arrives on the homepage of The Counted, the most prominent element on the page is the counter: the number of people killed in the last year. The total for 2016 stands at one-thousand and ninety-one deaths. Along with that, there is data based on race and ethnicity along with location that is centrally featured. The content is quite simple to access, one can search for specific people, or can filter the data by several criteria such as gender or age. One only needs to scroll down to find the faces behind the names. For every individual that was killed, there is an entry including a picture, date, name, age, cause of death and location. Clicking on an entry brings up further details, and even links out to local news articles about the death.

Continuing to scroll down will reveal every single entry from the last year, categorized by month from December to January. Not only that, but the data is fully open access for download. Under the About page, there is an option to download the data in the form of excel documents that detail every single incident that is part of The Counted.  In order to access this, the header of the page includes links to a tip submission form, the About page, relevant articles and social media pages.

When one follows the link to Read Articles, it brings them to a page with a large amount of related information. Interestingly, this page is much more of a mix between The Guardian and The Counted than the other components of The Counted. The homepage of The Counted does have a blue banner at the top for The Guardian, but directly below that there is the much larger banner in orange that contains information directly relevant to the project. On the Articles page, though, the orange banner has been replaced with a much larger blue banner for The Guardian, enticing readers to continue exploring the Guardian site.

The actual content of the page itself is broken down into several different sections, including investigation findings, in-depth reports, a series investigating specific police departments, and backstory along with several others. This is not only good for those who wish to learn more about the project outside of the data itself, but as part of this the page links out to other news sources. These other sites are not only reporting on it, but are even analyzing the data. For example, some Harvard medical school researchers utilize this data along with other sources to pose this as part of a public health issue that has been longstanding in the United States. These articles help place The Counted as part of a larger web of discussion.

In addition to the related articles, the social media pages provide another point of access for the project, and allow people to follow the social media page to integrate The Counted into their daily lives. Every morning when they are checking Facebook over breakfast, they can see posts of the count rising: 1058, 1068, 1085, 1091. By integrating social media into The Counted, the project can provide a frequent reminder of the larger discourse on police violence. In doing so, The Counted plays an important role in contributing to this larger body of knowledge and discussion. When debating nearly any issue controversial or not, collecting accurate statistics is an important precondition to having an extended dialogue about the issue. An argument is no longer purely subjective if there are facts to defend it.

In fact, The Counted is not unique in its efforts to catalogue deaths by police in the United States. The Washington Post also maintains a database of similar incidents, but something of note is that The Counted have over one hundred more deaths for their count of 2016 than the Washington Post database. Obviously, the disparity there cannot be attributed to poor data collection on the count of The Washington Post, because if that were the case then the researchers for the Post could merely look at the data from The Counted and add that to their database. Upon further investigation, it is revealed that the Post is tracking fatal shootings by police, whereas The Counted is tracking “any deaths arising directly from encounters with law enforcement”.

This divergence in and of itself poses some interesting questions: What causes a police officer to utilize their firearm? When should lethal vs nonlethal force be use? Who should be held accountable if somebody dies in police custody, but not necessarily directly from a specific officer’s actions? Often when discussing law enforcement violence, the discussion of racism quickly become intertwined as well. Despite that, The Counted does not focus on a specific race or ethnicity.

This heavily contrasts with similar websites such as www.mappingpoliceviolence.org. On the home page of that site, in a big red banner right near the top is “Police killed at least 289 black people in the U.S. in 2016”. Rather than giving raw data, this site focuses more on giving interpretations of statistics that support their viewpoint. Even if the reporters behind The Counted hold those same exact views, they attempt to report the data as objectively as possible. I believe the more neutral method used by The Counted leads to a more nuanced discussion, as the interpretation of the data should be independent from the collection of that data. However, there is still debate over how best to interpret this data, and what should be done as a result. While this is obviously a very controversial issue, The Counted plays a vital role in highlighting how widespread this matter is and working to prevent it from being swept under the rug by the government.

The Counted is a project that works to provide information about the contentious issue of law enforcement killing United States citizens. Just in the past year, deaths at the hands of police have led to riots in many major cities. However, that is not to say that the use of force is not justified on many occasions as well. Debate has gone on and will continue as part of this ongoing issue, but examining a single incident is not enough.

In order to have an educated dialogue which may lead to reform in the future, it is important that we investigate trends throughout the entire nation and consider the “bigger picture”. The Counted project, among other similar movements, has made efforts to provide this prerequisite for the general public so that we all may participate in this discourse. As this data continues to be amassed, it is now the choice of the participants of this democracy to decide the path of our nation as we move forward.

 

 

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