Reflecting on my time at Boston University’s School of Public Health researching racism, firearm violence and police brutality, it is hard to believe that it is almost over. This experience has been very eye opening and I am thankful that I was able to work in issues that I am passionate about. I learned many interesting thing doing this research that has given me a new perspective on America. The first month and a half of my work, me and the two other interns created an entire database from 1990 to 2015 measuring various indicators of racism. We are the first to do this. There have been other articles claiming to measure the most racist states like this one for example, but it does not have multiple measurements or chart it for 25 years.
From our findings, I discovered that all 50 states have a massive problem and all struggle with racism, not just conservative states. I also learned that the Midwest is actually the worst area, while previously I believed that South would be the most racist. After gathering all of our data we began to analyze it and compared it to police shootings, firearm homicide rates and disparities between white and black victims. We discovered that disparities between firearm homicide rates are strongly correlated to the racism measurements, meaning that states that were more racist had higher numbers of black homicide rates. This discovery was not too surprising.
A discovery that did surprise me was that we did not find a strong correlation between the state level of racism and black-white disparities of people shot by police. This could be that some of the numbers we were working with were too small and skewed the data.
Another thing we measured was how states improved over the years and if they made any progress with these various measures. We discovered that there was a very strong negative correlation between disparities in police shootings and progress. This means that states that were working to be less racist and have improved over the course of 25 years had lower rates of disparities in police shootings, regardless of where they stand on the racist scale we invented. These were some of the sites that were useful when conducting our research.
All of the data was collected by me and two other interns, meaning that I had a significant impact on final results of this work. I believe that my work was vital and the three of us were very involved in this project. We are working to publish our database as well as writing a paper. We are allowing anyone to access this database, meaning I will have an impact on other research that is based off of this data. Before I stated that I was very overwhelmed by the workload, independence, and importance of the work I was doing. There is no other database measuring racism state by state for a span of 25 years. I was responsible for finding and plotting all the data and I was very worried that I would make a mistake or mess something up. After looking back on all the work I did, I wish that I can more trust and have confidence in myself.
The advice I would give to anyone else working on something similar would be to not be intimidated or overwhelmed by the work. To anyone who feels that they may be under-qualified for a position they were given, the best way to learn is through experience and hands-on work, not necessarily just schooling. I would also say that America is not completely doomed and there are people and organizations like BU committed to solving issues like these. I believe that by being given so much responsibility, I was able to accomplish more than I have ever thought I could.
After a month and half of researching racism and police shootings in the United States I have learned a great deal. I learned much more about the topic of racism and how it expresses itself in the US. Racism is present in every state, not just the conservative ones, and many systems are unfair. I also learned about gun control in America and firearm violence. I can apply this to my look on life and American society. I will gain a greater understanding of how racism works and its effects on society. This will help me in help in my classes but also beyond that.
During this internship I learned a great deal about researching and many skills associated with conducting research. For example, I learned about collecting data, such as where to find the information and how to chart/measure it once you have it. I learned what to do with that data once you have it and tools for summarizing and analyzing the data you received. I also became an expert at Excel. This is something that nearly everyone has on the resumes, but I can actually say with confidence that I know how to extensively use it. This is a great skill to have that I will need not only in some of my Brandeis classes but also in a career after I graduate. I am an HSSP and psychology major, so I will likely be going into a field involving research and I feel that I am confidant in collecting and analyzing data.
I also learned how to work well with others and listen to everyone’s thoughts and ideas. Before we make any decisions on what to do next, we meet together and have an open discussion where everyone weighs in on their thoughts and ideas. In the past I am usually put in situation where I am told exactly what to do, or I working alone and completely in charge of only my work. At my internship I am given a great deal of freedom and independence to do my work the way that best suits me, but I am also part of a team and have to consider other. For example, this week we finished all of our data collection and we met to discuss how to best organize and present that data in more readable form. We were all expected to give our ideas on what we thought was best to but to eventually all come to a common agreement.
I learned that I have developed really good listening skills, although at times it is best to hold back my thoughts and let others take the lead. I learned that we can all benefit from listening to one another rather than competing with each other. I have been given a lot of responsibility at my job and I can use it to my advantage, or do the bare minimum. Because I have so much independence I can choose if I want to put in effort or slack off. I have learned that when I am working on a topic I find to interesting and important, I am more likely to give it my best and do more than just the bare minimum.
My first week at Boston School of Public Health was quite the interesting one – even my first day was very exciting. I am researching firearm violence and specifically looking into police shootings. I believe this topic is very relevant and important to spend money and time on given the current state of America. I work under Dr. Siegel and with two other interns who are also in college. We are looking at shooting by state and ultimately attempting to link lower rates of police shootings with stricter gun regulations in that state.
We are at the first stages of this project, so we are focused on looking into why police shootings happen. Racism is one of the biggest causes and motivators behind fatal police shootings, so we are gathering data to document and prove systemic racism in each state. This topic is a necessary one to asses because it has caused such harm and damage to American society. To my surprise, there is not many public health articles showing the correlation between racism and adverse health outcomes, and we are the first people to research this specific issue. There is also no comprehensive database breaking down clear statics of systemic racism on a state level, so we are also the first to do this. We plan on creating an extensive database assessing racism each state by looking at factors such as education, incarceration, segregation, and unemployment. Within the past two weeks, the team I am working with has been collecting data on these topics. There are not many primary sources that document this so we’ve been mainly having to use the census, which can be very time-consuming because there is so much data in the census. We hope that having this completed database with help to combat racial issues, specifically police shootings.
My first day I was told to find the statics of people incarcerated, broken down by race and state. I was shocked to find how little information is out there. The Bureau of Justice only had data on years 1994-1998, 2005, 2015. This is one of few reports that had the information we needed. This is clearly a topic that needs more attention and needs to be better documented by federal organizations. For the other years, I had to go to the censuses and search for numbers state by state and do some math. This website coded the census, making it fairly readable. This is pretty time consuming and took a full day to do one year. The data found was pretty disturbing, but unfortunately not surprising given how problematic the justice and prison system is. All the state had drastically higher percentage of the Black population in prison compared to the White. The next day I was alarmed to find that the Bureau of Justice had completely shut down its website and was forced to start on an other topic and hope the website would be back to running soon.
I find this work to be importation, and since it is a cause I care about and deeply worries me, I do not find spending hours searching through and analyzing data to be boring. I also enjoy the people I work with and my boss has had many interesting and important projects that have had very important effects on public health and has also focused on marginalized groups.
Here is some examples of the work that I analyze, the top photo is data from the 2010 census and the bottom photo is some of the reading that I was assigned to prepare for the project.
The social justice goals of my internship are to help combat police shootings and bring more public attention to racism in America. One major strategy that my company uses is being part of an institution. Boston University has a lot of credibility, which is helpful when addressing issues of injustice that marginalized populations face. It is has been very useful to use an institution that has power and influence when dealing with this topic that is often overlooked by many.
Currently we are looking to create a large database measuring racism in each state. We are looking at factors such as incarceration rates, housing segregation, medium income, unemployment, educational attainment, and homeownership. We made a big step recently, as we finished gathering all the information. We still have a long way to go before we finished with our project and ultimately relate it back to police brutality, but this is still a huge accomplishment. We will be the first people to publish information on this topic that is this extensive. Nowhere can someone find a breakdown of these measures of racism on a state basis charted across a span of twenty-five years. The only comparable article is this wallet hub article that only measures a couple of factors and only does so for one year.
Our data collection can be used beyond our work as well. Having statistical evidence that proves systemic racism can be incredibly useful combating racism in America. Many Americans deny that racism is an issue and doubt the validity of various social activist groups, so having hard facts will help strengthen the arguments to defend the cause. There is a huge backlash against social justice, and there even news outlets where millions of views can be influenced into thinking that America does not have a problem with racism, thereby overlooking and invalidating a real cause. This is an example of one of these programs. We hope that this data will be useful in arguing against this kind of rhetoric and hopefully inform people.
With our data we are planning on creating a points system to rank all fifty states on a scale to most to least racist. We hope to find correlation between states that have higher rank on racism with higher rates of police shootings. This will prove that police brutality and race are interconnected and it is a real issue that disproportionally affects people of color. After this step we are then planning on looking at states that have high rates of police shooting and seeing if there is any correlation with that state’s firearm laws and restrictions. We are hoping to find that state with more lenient firearm regulations have higher rates of police shootings. This information will give us a plan to try and lowering police shootings. Finally we then hope to publish our findings and use them. There is a long journey ahead of us and sometimes it is hard to imagine this happening in one summer. Our progress with our data collections however is an important mark of what we have accomplished thus far. Progress at our site works when we all have an imaginable goal.
In my career at Brandeis I have taken classes that talk about systemic racism and its effect on American society. Currently at my internship, we are finishing up creating our database tracking systemic racism at a state level and seeing the effect it has on police shootings. Some factors we are using to measure this are incarceration rates, managerial positions and housing segregation. We are attempting to prove that police shootings are caused by racism by showing that states that have higher levels of racism and prejudice also have higher rates of police shooting unarmed black people.
In my classes, I have leaned that racism at the systemic level can lead to a society that acts upon a racist subconscious. For example, in a community with a particularly high rate of black incarceration, a low rate of minorities in managerial positions and highly segregated housing, citizens are much more likely to believe in racial stereotypes and engage in the misconstrued dialog of the black typecast. Law enforcement brought about by police also plays a powerful role in this cycle.
In my research, I have found that in 2010 a black person in Wisconsin was eleven times more likely to be incarcerated than that of a white person. Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s housing was 83% segregated in 2010. So, a non-black police officer that lives in a predominately Caucasian neighborhood in Wisconsin, whom most likely does not have much exposure to the black community because of his residency in a white-dominated suburb, is more likely to believe and contribute to minority stereotypes. Because of this, it is more likely that this particular officer, who witnesses a high percentage of African America incarceration rates, believes that it is common for black people to be criminals and or violent. This belief would lead to a higher likelihood for the officer to seek out or arrest black citizens due to his own prejudices.
Building on that idea, when encountering a minority he may also suspect them to be violent or have a history of crime, leading to a higher level of fear and increased irrationally on the job. This may cause the officer to use excessive force while warranting an arrest and if the situation were to at all escalate, the officer may fear for his life and lead him to shoot the perpetrator. Usually in these situations the officer is in no real threat and the supposed “criminal” is usually unarmed and often not breaking a law or merely committing a very minor non-violent crime.
In my classes I have learned how racism leads to much injustice in America, and I have learned that it kills. These statics that I am researching are not only problems themselves but also lead to big issues like police brutality and unfair deaths. What I have learned about race in America has helped to contextualize the work I do and understand how they are all connected. Creating an extensive database documenting various indicators of racism state by state is an important resource to have because it can used to expose other issues. It is important to learn that these things are not coincidences and we must address systemic racism and other inequalities, which will cause a ripple effect helping to solve other issues. Without this knowledge, I may have not understood the importance of spending the day looking at a census charting numbers such as incarceration rates or home ownership, and I may have missed the full picture.