Launching Injustice Watch: New voices, new openness

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There may be no better time to launch Injustice Watch than today.

More than fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I had a dream” speech, America remains a country that struggles to accomplish equality. Income inequality and poverty grow, educational systems are widely uneven, and even access to the polls remains an issue. Pew researchers have found that Americans of all races agree that the justice system is the institution least expected to be fair by all races.

No wonder. Black men are as likely as not to have been arrested by the time they are 23 years old. They are more likely to be subject to stops on the street or in cars, suspicious or not. The series of incidents of police shootings and assaults in Ferguson, in Cleveland, in Brooklyn, in Baltimore, and in South Carolina, to name a few, have highlighted concerns about how police respond to cross-racial situations.

And yet, doing journalism that uncovers systemic problems and helps the public better understand the causes of injustice – the first step toward reform – requires persistence, time and money – all qualities that are a growing challenge as news organizations continue to suffer layoffs, downsizing and shrinking budgets.

Happily, new organizations and individual reporters are stepping in, working together cooperatively and creatively to keep the public better informed. Just consider the past two weeks in Chicago.

First the Invisible Institute created and published a database based on police misconduct complaints that were finally opened to the public through the long legal battle of Jamie Kalven, one of the group’s founders. The data opens a window that should give rise to a rare opportunity for reform.

Then a freelance reporter won a ruling last week ordering the video of the shooting last year by a Chicago police officer of 17-year old, Laquan McDonald. In both cases the city had initially refused to turn over the data, even resisting turning over the information in court until a judge ordered its release.

“It’s a massive victory for transparency,” the reporter, Brandon Smith told us on Friday, of the judge’s decision. “I’m happy to report that journalism remains alive, and that even when it’s not associated with big-name operations, it still gets results.”

We’re all for journalism, both by the big established organizations and the newcomers. We welcome efforts to make government more transparent, to hold accountable those in power, and to provide a voice for vulnerable citizens who suffer from injustice.

We look forward to working cooperatively with Brandon, and the Invisible Institute, and many other individuals as well as organizations big and small, established and not. We trust that our willingness to dig deeply, and study systemic problems that impede justice and equality, will be a valuable new voice.