ACLU-MO History Spotlight: Mapping Police Violence in St. Louis

Racial Violence, Legacies, and Reckoning

Heightened awareness around the issue of police violence has ensued amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic, but for many, this social issue is all too familiar. The highly publicized deaths of Michael Brown in our own city of St. Louis and the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others have had ripple effects across the globe. The rallying cries at protests have centered around the persistence of state-sanctioned violence in communities of color both historically and presently.

In spring 2019, I enrolled in Dr. Geoff Ward’s course Racial Violence, Legacies and Reckoning. In this seminar course, Dr. Ward led us through a number of ways legacies of racial violence manifest and connect to contemporary issues that society faces today. Throughout the semester, we were tasked with identifying and carrying out a project to more effectively identify and interrogate legacies of racial violence.  It is through this lens that I created the online interactive: Mapping Historical Police Violence in St. Louis.

My prior research explored the effects of police encounters on minority youth and families, but I seldom took the time to reflect on the historical implications of those encounters. Inspired to explore this further, I met with Miranda Rectenwald who introduced me to the wealth of archival content available in the ACLU of Missouri archives housed at the Julian Edison Department of Special Collections in Olin Library.  After reviewing the archives, I narrowed my topic to focus on the organization’s advocacy efforts around the issue of police shootings of fleeing civilians that occurred between 1969 and 1981 in St. Louis, Missouri.

Researching at the Archive

With the aim of investigating if police violence has been a pervasive issue in St. Louis over time, I dove into the ACLU archives and found over 100 incidents of police shootings of civilians occurring between 1969 and 1981.  These were found in various documents, such as the one below.

“Draft — Police Shooting Project”
ACLU of MO, Police – Conduct / Shootings, Use of Firearms, 1975-1981. (Series 3, Box 32, Folder 1)
Click to enlarge

I then compared the location of these historic incidents to police shootings occurring between 2000 and 2020 in St. Louis, as compiled from fatalencounters.org. The location of each incident was geocoded and mapped using geographic information systems (GIS) along with the number of Black residents in St. Louis at the census tract level based on the 1980 and 2010 U.S. censuses. GIS results revealed noticeable similarities in the sites of police shootings of civilians across the two time periods, with a high concentration of police shootings of civilians taking place in the northern part of the city in predominately Black communities.

Mapping the Results

The results were then translated to a more interactive platform through the development of an ArcGIS Story Map that walks viewers through a visualization of patterns of police shooting incidents over time, provides case studies on individuals in specific neighborhoods that have experienced and continue to be sites of higher concentrations of police violence, and a discussion on next steps.

Click to open: Mapping Historical Police Violence in St. Louis

Mapping Historical Police Violence in St. Louis

Screen captures of interactive maps

Though some may feel that police violence is an issue of the past, this project’s use of archival data demonstrates that the problem persists. Mapping historical police violence scratches the surface of some of the underlying reasons why the fight for racial justice endures.

The ACLU of Missouri has a long history of contributing to the fight against police violence. In order for us to attain true reconciliation, we must lean on the richness of historical accounts like those found in archival repositories to make sense of our current circumstances and to forge more transformative and sustainable change moving forward.

More

American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Records. Police – Conduct / Shootings, Use of Firearms, 1975-1981. American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Records (WUA00355), 1930-2015 http://archon.wulib.wustl.edu/index.php?p=collections/controlcard&id=207

Burghart, D. B. (2020). Fatal Encounters. Retrieved from: https://fatalencounters.org/

Diaz, J., Hauser, C., Bailey, J. M., Landler, M., McCann, E., Pronczuk, M., … Zaveri, M. (2020, June 25). How Statues Are Falling Around the World. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/24/us/confederate-statues-photos.html

Jackson, Ashley. Mapping Historical Police Violence in St. Louis Story Map: https://arcg.is/1fT8nv

Racial Violence, Legacies and Reckoning course https://acadinfo.wustl.edu/syllabus/syllabus/SP2019/L/L90/4601/01

Rectenwald, Miranda (03 June 2020). ACLU-MO History Spotlight: Reforms to End Police Violence https://library.wustl.edu/aclu-mo-history-spotlight-reforms-to-end-police-violence/

 


ACLU-MO @ 100

This post is part of a series in recognition of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri’s centennial year (1920-2020). Read more stories at: https://library.wustl.edu/tag/ACLU-MO@100/

 


Guest Author

Ashley Jackson, PhD student, Brown School, Washington University in St. Louis

If you have a question about this post, I can be reached at ashley.jackson@wustl.edu or on Twitter: @AshleyN_Jackson

About the author

Miranda Rectenwald is Curator of Local History, Washington University Special Collections. More info.