… and there were insights aplenty! Allen Hillery of Be Data Lit and Samuel Sinyangwe of Mapping Police Violence were both a key part of making the 2021 Civic Hacker Summit lineup so phenomenal. They recently connected and had an important conversation that we are honored to share with the Network via a bonus episode of the Civic Hacker Podcast, and this article by guest author Allen Hillery.

Special thanks to Allen and Sam for sharing so generously of their experiences, being living examples of how to take action, and providing solid advice for us all to use as we move forward with creating the change we want to see in our world.

Civic hackers don’t ask for permission

Sam Sinyangwe is the founder of Mapping Police Violence and the creator of the Police Scorecard. For almost a decade, he’s been developing policy solutions to address police violence in America. Sam exhibits the qualities of a civic hacker. He’s using data and technology to create positive social change. His advice for those who are considering to take on a similar mission: “Don’t ask for permission.”

I’ve had the opportunity to talk with Sam a few times this past year. The work he’s doing is truly inspiring. Sam’s very humble and giving of his time. When I reached out recently, he was happy to oblige to share what he’s been up to since we chatted earlier this year. In our video chat, he discusses how he’s been working to reimagine Mapping Police Violence’s data infrastructure and analysis. His team is working to broaden the scope of the important work being done around police violence. For starters, in addition to collecting data around high profile fatal police interactions, he and his team are examining non-fatal cases. There’s currently no platform or tool that is housing this breadth of police data.  

Civic hackers tirelessly come up with new ways for institutions to better serve civil society. 

During the course of our conversation, we couldn’t help but touch on key moments in the Black Lives Matter era. Sam shared his thoughts on the recent updates around the Breonna Taylor Case. While he is glad to hear that the four Kentucky police officers involved in the raiding of Taylor’s apartment have been federally charged for her death, he remains wary of the outcome. This is understandable given past verdicts that have been returned in cases like this. 

Civic Hackers need support to sustain themselves over the journey. 

One of the highlights of chatting with Sam was when talked about mission vs. career. As kids, we dream about being policemen, firemen or astronauts. Sam wanted to be an astrophysicist. He shares that the events in his life showed him he had a greater mission. He talks about growing up in Florida being one of a few Black children in a predominantly White school district. This experience shaped his career journey as he gravitated towards a career in education policy. Upon reflection, he commented on his Mapping Police Violence project. He stated how the US government has commented on such a tool not being able to be built. They stated that there are roughly 18K police organizations in the United States, with varying reporting procedures. They conclude that a tool to document police violence would prove too complex. He continues to point out that we do, however, have ways of analyzing US school districts. 

We continued chatting about balancing and pacing ourselves for the sustainability of the mission. We agreed that self care is of the utmost importance. Sam reflected on another career pivot that ultimately brought him to the work he’s doing now. The death of Trayvon Martin deeply impacted Sam. This tragedy took place in Sanford, Florida. Sam grew up in this neighborhood and recalls attending soccer practice regularly. He’s commented in our conversations that he could have easily been Trayvon.

Being a civic hacker is all about being an active participant in creating solutions to public problems.

Sam noticed the absence of official government statistics on police violence. He took action by building a database of police killings as well as a police scorecard. Like a true civic hacker, his approach falls outside of the processes, tools or collaborators seen in our civic institutions. Sam made a powerful statement during our discussion on mission vs career – “We’re in disproportionate fields trying to address racial inequity we’ve experienced. We do what we do not by choice but for the fulfillment of the mission”  

 Going back to Sam’s call to action, “Don’t ask for permission.”

Two Civic Hackers Walk Into a Zoom

When Samuel Sinyangwe noticed the absence of official government statistics on police violence he took action by building a database of police killings himself, as well as developing the Police Scorecard. 

Upon realizing that there is a growing data literacy skills gap that is leaving the workforce unprepared to fully thrive in their careers and communities, Allen Hillery co-founded Be Data Lit, an educational resource and supportive community for teaching everyone data literacy if they have an interest, no matter what their background is. 

Both of these civic hackers appeared in the 2021 Civic Hacker Summit to share their stories and deliver messages of empowerment to others who would see a need and be compelled to take action in their communities. Don’t miss your next opportunity to hear from changemakers like Allen and Sam! 

Sign up to be among the first to get a free pass to the next Civic Hacker Summit here!