When Black Lives Matter protests broke out in Ferguson, Missouri and around the country after police officer Darren Wilson killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in 2014, data scientist Samuel Sinyangwe took action. He, along with activist/Baltimore mayoral candidate DeRay McKesson and others, formed We The Protesters, a national advocacy organization which gives activists resources to end police violence in their communities.
Among We The Protesters’ data-centered projects is the Mapping Police Violence database, which catalogs the number of people killed by law enforcement officers (over 1,000 in 2015, including 336 black people). The group also developed Campaign Zero, a “blueprint for ending police violence” that includes limiting use of force, ending “broken windows” policing, making officers wear body cameras and using community oversight.
Mr. Sinyangwe is speaking at the fifth annual TFI Interactive Conference on Saturday. The Tribeca Film Festival project, which explores storytelling in the digital age, is co-sponsored this year by the Observer.
While his work may not seem like typical film festival fare, Mr. Sinyangwe told the Observer that his involvement showed that Tribeca’s focus was changing, and that it was embracing multimedia approaches to national issues.
“There’s a sort of acknowledgment that the voice of folks that have been unheard should be centered in the festival,” he said. “The definitions of creativity and art are broader than what is usually called up, and the visualization of storytelling is vital to social movements.”
Fittingly, Mr. Sinyangwe’s keynote address will focus on how activists in Ferguson and beyond have used new media to tell the truth and raise awareness.
“The community has emerged and conducted advocacy at a pace we haven’t seen before,” Mr. Sinyangwe said. “Digital tools have led to systemic change at all levels of government.”
Indeed, since the shooting of Michael Brown, protests in person and on social media have led 24 states to pass laws cracking down on police violence.
The fact that the We The Protesters movement originated on social media made it easier for the community to work together, according to Mr. Sinyangwe.
“I connected to this movement through Twitter, as so many others have,” he said. “We’ve worked to crowdsource and organize in the new digital space. Community building is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Mr. Sinyangwe concluded with the hope that his TFI address will show that the idea of community is evolving.
“We can use 21st century tools to amplify and accelerate community building, advocacy, activism and storytelling,” he said. “It’s something we haven’t seen before, and it’s transformational in terms of social activism.”