The YEG Police Violence Archive (YEGPVA) is a collaborative community project that is ongoing. The Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton (SAVE) Research Team worked on the initial 30 or so entries by manually exploring media reports of police violence in Edmonton. Currently at Stage 1 in development, they have been joined by a group of students from the University of Alberta working on a Gender Studies/Digital Humanities course, Building Intersectional Feminist Archives to assist in the optimization of the archive and adding records to the database.
Updated January 2024
The SAVE team shared their data dictionary and controlled vocabulary, and acquired datasets in the form of .csv files from the Alberta Police Misconduct Database (APMD), a community organization consisting of civilians, lawyers, and academics interested in accountability for police misconduct. These datasets contain a little over 300 records which YEGPVA are working to import and incorporate into their own database.
We decided to share some of our approaches in working on the YEGPVA. We were inspired by The Suffrage Postcard Project Methodology which also works with rotating teams of students, and prioritizes transparency. We felt that sharing rationales was also a good way to promote accountability for our input and create linkages with those who have situated the beginning of this archive and those who will come after.
Mapping Data and Aligning Ontologies
- The APMD dataset did not map onto the YEGPVA database. As the APMD focuses on the misconduct of officers, the records often included more than one instance of misconduct, the misconduct was not always a violence incident (which falls outside of the scope of the YEGPVA database), and the collection and descriptions of misconduct were officer-focused.
- The .csv files we received did not contain all of the information that could be found in the original item record in the database, namely media attachments and original source documents (court records, media clippings, etc). Manual retrieval and cross-referencing was required to a) identify if records met the scope of the project, and b) to collect the necessary minimum information to import into the YEGPVA database
- We compared the properties in the APMD database (not only the ones included in the .csv files) with the YEGPVA properties, identifying fields required for import, as well as fields that would be beneficial to the project if the information was available
- We created a resource template in Omeka to reflect the “ideal” record, which would include the minimum required info as identified by the YEGPVA data dictionary and the additional fields that we identified. We proposed the addition of new fields, including Victim Disability, and new controlled vocabulary for existing fields, including Type of Abuse and Submission Source
- Of the records provided, some did not fit the scope of the project or needed to be reviewed for other reasons. We removed these records and placed them in a spreadsheet to be reviewed by the YEGPVA research team. The remaining records were imported with the minimum required fields, with 26 records receiving detailed descriptions and metadata. These records demonstrate our preferred level of information to include and act as a sample for future volunteers.
Table 1: Rationale for Changes in this Iteration
Discussion of Narrative Writing and New Elements
The following disclaimer is one we are considering adding to our detailed records for victim-survivors (or families of victim-survivors acting upon their wishes) to request the removal or correction of information in the record.
Disclaimer: The Archive seeks to work towards ending the structural patterns of oppression and violence in policing. We believe that documenting such incidents of police violence can demonstrate systematic patterns of harm while also sharing and empowering the voices of victim-survivors who are and have been impacted by the policing system. We understand that these incidents bear the weight of trauma that is unique to each and every individual affected and make every effort to share these stories to our communities in a safe and meaningful way.
We also understand that working through trauma is not a linear process and will support the needs and well-being of victim-survivors and their families, including retracting information in the Archive.
As a community-driven project, we welcome any feedback or concerns for the Archive so that we may listen, respond to, and grow alongside our communities. If you have any concerns or suggestions for our team, or are an individual that has been named in the Archive and wish to have your entry withdrawn from the Archive, please contact us at email@example.com.
Gender-based Violence and Intersectional Feminism
As lead by the Principles and Practices of the archive, we approach this work with an intersectional feminist lens. We’d like to acknowledge that within the goals of the project and the values of the team, there is friction in terms of the importance of identifying gender-based violence versus the idea of not assuming the gender of individuals when it is unknown (based on names, media reporting, or police/court records). In order for the data from this archive to be useful in work combatting violence against women, girls, and non-binary folks, it is helpful to identify those instances. Unfortunately, when the data source is a court document or media report, it is likely that the concept of gender is not being critically examined or respected in the writing. We know that trans and gender non-conforming people experience police violence at higher rates, with the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reporting “Transgender people were 3.7 times more likely to experience police violence compared to cisgender survivors and victims. Transgender people were 7 times more likely to experience physical violence when interacting with the police compared to cisgender survivors and victims.” (2013).
As a team we questioned how to employ an intersectional feminist lens, centre the needs of the community, and balance competing priorities. Would it be beneficial or harmful to shift to gender neutral language in writing incident descriptions? There is an element that labels the victim’s gender as presumed, so that data is represented. Based on the handling of gender that we saw in other archives and the desire to humanize gender-based violence, we decided to continue to use presumed gender language in descriptions, but to remain accountable and flexible in that decision. If any person who was a subject in a report were to contact the volunteer team, we would work with them to correct or remove pronouns and names as needed. As a community-led project, our goal is to continue consultation with individuals affected by gendered language. If discussion leads to a different way of handling it, existing records could be updated.
- As incidents will also be reported by the public it is important that the controlled vocabulary be inclusive of the diversity of labels needed.
- Gender neutral incident descriptions may make use of neutral language such as: individual, victim, survivor, person, adult, and child.
- In archive content, volunteers will avoid using qualifiers such as “identified as” or “preferred pronouns” in acknowledgement that we need to simply employ the correct language to represent people on an equal footing (GLAAD, n.d.).
- Item records will not refer to a victim/survivor’s identity as transgender unless a user-submitted report is submitted with the intention to share that information. While it may seem like important data, this considers that “Many transgender people are only able to live as their authentic gender some of the time. Some have only disclosed the fact that they are transgender to certain people” (GLAAD, n.d.).
Disability and Police Violence
CBC’s Deadly Force database identified that 68 percent of people killed in police encounters from 2000 to 2017 were experiencing substance use disorder, mental health issues, or both (Singh, 2020), yet disability is often missing from the conversation of police-perpetrated violence and harm (Perry & Carter-Long). When disability, substance use, or other illnesses are included in police or media reports, the information is often used to perpetuate stigma, like the stereotype that those with psychiatric illnesses are more violent than those without (Perry & Carter-Long, 2016). This framing can be used to absolve police from accountability when they perpetrate violence against mentally ill or disabled victims or react with fear because they perceive their victim as more violent.
We proposed the addition of Victim Disability as an element for the records in the YEGPVA to begin to have conversations about the way that disability intersects with other factors that may lead to police violence (Perry & Carter-Long, 2016). Our hope is that we can help reframe the way that disability, health, and substance use are portrayed in instances of police violence.
This category does not include controlled vocabulary to allow for victim-survivors to describe their disabilities or illnesses in their own terms. Just as we cannot define what constitutes survivorship, we also do not decide what constitutes disability. The field is used to identify disability status, illnesses, mental health conditions, or chronic substance use at the time of the incident. Disability may be short term or long term. There are standards that archivists should follow, which we have kept in mind as we utilized this field, including avoiding functioning labels (National Center on Disability and Journalism, 2021), assigning a ‘severity’ to a disability, and using words like ‘suffering from’ when describing disability or an illness. We aim to use identity-first disability language but are open to applying person-first language for victim-survivors who prefer to be represented in that way.
We understand that these guidelines – and all the guidelines that have framed our work – are iterative and they are not a “one size fits all” solution. They are responsive to the needs of the community and the victim-survivors represented in the archives, aiming to center humanity and dignity without re-traumatizing or causing additional harm to our community members.
Police & Media Narratives & Reparative Redescription
We implemented the concept of reparative archival description to create community- and human-centered, inclusive, and trauma-informed archival descriptions (Yale University Library, 2022) in the 26 detailed records that we added to the archive. As the records originally came from a police misconduct database, the incidents focused on the conduct of the police, not the experiences of the victims. Furthermore, many of the sources attached to these records were court documents or other texts from the judicial system. By rewriting the descriptions in a way that centers the experiences of the victims, we acknowledge the way that police and media narratives are used to minimize perceptions of harm and shift accountability away from the police.
- Avoid the passive voice and be specific about what the violence or harm was and who perpetrated it (objectivity (Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia, 2020; Wallace, 2020). Police and media reports often use words that shift the blame from officers who have perpetrated violence, making the harm seem ambiguous (Race Forward, 2016) or implying that the victim provoked or deserved the harm.
- Be consistent in any words used to describe violence or death, especially as it relates to Black, Indigenous, People of Colour. BIPOC accused or convicted of violent acts often have criminalizing language applied to them, but when they are victims of the same violence, less violent language is used (Race Forward, 2016).
- Uplift the humanity of victim-survivors of police violence. The YEGPVA principles and practices identify that people can be both victims and perpetrators of crime. However, police and the media use the criminal histories of victim-survivors to shift the narrative away from the perpetrator and back onto the victim (Shenkman & Slade, 2021). Avoid including criminal history if unrelated or unnecessary to the violence incident described.
- Describe the records in a way that supports the needs of the audience accessing the information (Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia, 2020) - those participating in activism related to police accountability and abolition, community members, and victim-survivors and/or their friends and families.
What Does It Mean to Build a Decolonial Archive?
“…with our lands freed from the clutches of white supremacy, we can collectively abolish the prison, and through the abolition of the prison, Native people can regain their lands” (Sepulveda, 2020, p.14).
Ideas about police abolition, Indigenous sovereignty, and land back are intimately intertwined. In our project plan, we identified approaching this project from a decolonial stance. What does it mean for an archive to be decolonial? According to Tuck and Yang (2012), decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization does not have any synonyms, nor is it a stand-in for social justice work (Tuck & Yang, 2012). Decolonization is a specific call to action: the return of land, and sovereignty over that land, to Indigenous Peoples. We identify how the YEGPVA’s actions and principles already align with decolonization and propose a set of recommendations to further support land back.
How the YEGPVA’s principles already align with decolonization:
- Police abolition and land back are intertwined. The abolition of police and the carceral system supports land back and land back supports abolition. Policing was established, in part, to aid in the theft of land from Indigenous Peoples (Riddle, 2020). In an article about the financial cost of policing, Riddle (2020) discusses police abolition as liberation and restitution.
- Reimagining society. The YEGPVA (n.d.) believes that a future free of police is not only possible, but necessary. Decolonization requires a radical rebuilding of society (Riddle, 2020) - reimagining a new future, not one that fits neatly within the existing frameworks of white supremacy (Sepulveda, 2020; Tuck & Yang, 2012). “Decolonization is not an “and”. It is an elsewhere” (Tuck & Yang, 2012, p.36).
- Police do not protect Indigenous people. Indigenous people are disproportionately represented in prisons (Riddle, 2020) and police deaths (Stelkia, 2020) in Canada. Meanwhile, Alberta represents the second-highest number of MMIWG in the country (Lachacz, 2022).
- The creation of controlled vocabulary and tags to describe Indigenous-specific issues and improve discoverability of related records. Might include MMIWG, Land & Water Defenders, protests, injunctions, land back, pipelines, reconciliation, residential schools, TRC Calls to Action, elders, Indigenous worldview, treaties.
- Consider other types of violence or abuse, particularly those that harm at the societal and structural levels. Police delivery of injunctions on behalf of corporations, the government, etc., destruction of camps assembled by land defenders, etc.
- The use of local, Indigenous names for communities, placing the Indigenous name first.
- Partnerships and consultation with Indigenous grassroots organizations and community leaders, like Stolen Sisters and Brothers Awareness Movement.
A4BLIP: Archivists for black lives in Philadelphia. Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia. (n.d.). Retrieved August 8, 2022, from https://ischoolgroups.sjsu.edu/saasc/2021/03/02/a4blip-archivists-for-black-lives-in-philadelphia/
GLAAD. (n.d.). Doubly Victimized: Reporting on Transgender Victims of Crime. Retrieved August 2, 2022, from https://www.glaad.org/publications/transgendervictimsofcrime
National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. (2013). Hate violence against transgender communities fact sheet. https://www.communitycommons.org/entities/eef40f3b-71f9-4828-b2f9-1d377764bcc5
National Center on Disability and Journalism. (2021, August). Disability language style guide. https://ncdj.org/style-guide/
Perry, D. M., & Carter-Long, L. (2016, March). Media coverage of law enforcement use of force and disability [White paper]. Ruderman Family Foundation. https://rudermanfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/MediaStudy-PoliceDisability_final-final.pdf
Race Forward. (2016, July 8). Best practices for journalists reporting on police killings of black and brown people. https://www.raceforward.org/press/releases/best-practices-journalists-reporting-police-killings-black-and-brown-people
Sepulveda, C. (2020, October 13). To decolonize Indigenous lands, we must also abolish police and prisons. Truthout. https://truthout.org/articles/to-decolonize-indigenous-lands-we-must-also-abolish-police-and-prisons/
Shenkman, D., & Slade, K. (2021, January 22). Police reports shouldn’t set the news agenda: A guide to avoiding systemic racism in reporting. American Bar Association. https://www.americanbar.org/groups/communications_law/publications/communications_lawyer/fall2020/police-reports-shouldnt-set-news-agenda-guide-avoiding-systemic-racism-reporting/
Singh, I. (2020, July 23). CBC’s Deadly Force database looks at role of race, mental health in deaths. CBC. https://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/fatalpoliceencounters/
Wallace, L. (2020, May 31). Ethical reporting on police violence and Black-led resistance: Tips for journalists. Medium. https://medium.com/@lewispants/ethical-reporting-on-police-violence-and-black-led-resistance-tips-for-journalists-e575947cfb71
Yale University Library. (2022, July 27). Reparative Archival Description Working Group. https://guides.library.yale.edu/reparativearchivaldescription