Meet the activists who created an ever-growing Google Doc of police violence across America
The killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer has sparked weeks of ongoing protests against police brutality and injustice across the country and the world. Law enforcement agencies in the United States have responded to these public demonstrations by continuing to use force, even against demonstrators who are acting peacefully. These instances of police violence have been circulating on Twitter, and two activists have decided to undertake the work of documenting them in an ever-growing spreadsheet.
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. At the time of publication, the spreadsheet has almost 600 examples of police brutality committed over the course of the last two weeks, with more in the process of being vetted by Doucette and added to the list. A visualization of the incidents, created by mathematician Manuchehr Aminian, shows that a majority of states in the US have seen at least one instance of video-documented police brutality occur in response to protests.
For Doucette, the effort to document police behaving badly started long before protesters took to the streets in response to the killing of George Floyd. He tells Mic that he has been working on sharing stories on social media of law enforcement officers abusing their power since 2007, when he would post about individual instances on Facebook. "At the time I was a lifelong Republican, very conservative politically, and thought it was outrageous to see government agents abusing people so cavalierly," he says. In 2012, he took those stories to Twitter and started to gain a following of people who were equally outraged by police conduct. In 2017, he started the Fsck 'Em All podcast (and later, an accompanying Patreon), which covers the American criminal justice system and its many failings, including police misconduct.
Doucette said that the response to his videos was too often dismissive. Because they often 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." These are common responses that one is likely to run into in any given Twitter thread or Facebook comment section under a video showing police brutality.
As protests started across the country and police responded with force, it became easier for Doucette to show how common the problem is. "When protests started in Minneapolis, I decided to compile a 10-item list for Facebook instead of a series of one-off posts," Doucette says. "Then I took those same 10 items and threaded them on Twitter." That thread kept getting progressively longer, with new footage coming in every day. Doucette says he started fielding submissions from people and the videos just keep coming. "People started submitting more. And more. And more. Now 11 days later I'm buried in 1000s of DMs with police abuse videos," he says.
The spreadsheet takes what started as a continuously growing thread on Twitter and turned it into a much more manageable document — and one that more easily helps capture the scope of the problem. That was the work of Jason Miller, a California-based science and mathematics educator. Miller tells Mic that he grew up in a suburb of St. Paul not far from where George Floyd was killed by police. "I learned about his death and saw the video. It hit me hard," he says. "I was angry and felt helpless to do anything."
Miller says that he's "always been uncomfortable with the way the government uses violence against citizens," but was unsure of how to address the problem. He had followed Doucette on Twitter for about a year and saw the lawyer starting to put together a thread of police brutality occurring during protests. "When I realized that T. Greg Doucette's Twitter thread offered me a way to get involved in the effort to stand up against brutality, I didn't need to think about whether or not I would get involved. I jumped in with both feet," Miller says. He approached Doucette on Twitter about curating all of the tweets into a Google spreadsheet so they could be shared more easily. A few weeks later, that spreadsheet is still growing.
Doucette says the response to the project has been generally positive, with some pointing to it as proof of ongoing police abuse and bias. Others have been stuck in their beliefs, with some even accusing Doucette of editing the videos and removing essential context that would justify or explain police behavior. However, Doucette says that he has seen some movement on people's opinions after viewing the document, including "pro-cop people who are viscerally shocked and now re-assessing" their views. He says that group is usually a small part of the response to justice reform protests, "but feels bigger this time around."
The polling seems to agree with his assessment. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that most Americans are more troubled by the act of police brutality that led to George Floyd’s death than by violence at some protests. Another poll conducted by YouGov found that a majority of Americans are in favor of a multitude of police reforms, including banning neck restraint tactics, implementing an early warning system for officers with a history of abuse, and providing more training on de-escalation tactics.
Both Doucette and Miller make no claims that their project is swaying public opinion, but it is clear that the increased effort to document abuses of power from police is starting to have an effect. "My hope is for comprehensive reform to how we do policing in this country, but I recognize I'm just a lawyer and there are others already doing the work that needs to be done," Doucette says. "My goal is to support them in their efforts to hold these individual officers accountable, and then reform the system so there are fewer of these occurrences in the future."
Miller says that he hopes people explore the instances of police brutality that they have been documenting and realize that this is a problem everywhere — not just at protests, and not just when cameras are rolling. By making the data more readily available, he believes that people will be able to take the information compiled and create new tools that will illustrate and document the problem of police brutality. "I hope good comes from this and that my effort contributes to American society moving toward being more equitable and just for all people," he says.