Mark every death. Remember every victim. Follow every case.
Weeks out of grad school, my world was the confines of Wheaton, Maryland. But it was reporting locally that I first came across Homicide Watch. Laura Amico, the site’s founder, messaged me on Twitter that someone wanted for a murder in Wheaton was also a person of interest in a DC case. I was grateful for the tip and began following the site.
Then when I started at the BBC, I realized I had more time on my hands that i knew what to do with. So I contacted Laura and offered her some of that time.
For several mornings last fall I sat in DC court, listening to hours of hearings – conversations that were both bureaucratic and vivid – of murders, assaults, rapes. I saw families wait for hours in court to see their loved one pulled out in a jumpsuit and handcuffs. Other families were there to bear witness to those who they lost. One woman next to me muttered under her breath “lies, lies” when a defense lawyer cast aspirstions on the victim.
I attended a memorial for a woman who was stabbed by an estranged boyfriend outside her children’s school, and interviewed a mother whose world was permanently colored by her son’s unsolved death, five years later.
But these are only my personal experiences with Homicide Watch – interesting, sure – but not why the site is important, crucial.
It’s crucial because every death, especially violent death is important to someone, even if you see it as a statistic. In a city like DC, those deaths are disproportionally shared by those who have already lived around violence, and who are forgotten by a “one more murder” standpoint.
DC’s murders largely happen out of sight from the federal city and from downtown. That doesn’t mean they should be ignored.
It’s crucial because when you follow every murder you know when a police statistic sounds iffy – and can explain what I actually means.
It’s crucial for people who are looking for information, any information on a case, where they can follow the sometimes confusing legal process of bringing a murder trial to court, and where they can grieve and share memories about loved ones.
Life and death and the legal system can be written as a story or can be shared as a set of data. Homicide Watch has found a way to do both.
Laura received a Nieman-Berkman fellowship in journalism innovation at Harvard for the 2012-2013 school year. The original plan was to partner with a local news org for the time she was in Boston. But that fell through.
In its place, they aim to make Homicide Watch a student-reporting workshop for the better part of a year- but to do so, they will need to fund full-time internships. They are doing so with a Kickstarter project.
The point being is that I haven’t done much work for Homicide Watch recently. As much as I think the site is amazing, I have a full-time job and life gets in the way, despite the best intentions. To do this work, you need someone dedicated. Not necessarily a ton of people – the site has been run by Laura and her husband for its entire duration – but dedicated.
Homicide Watch will go on hiatus if the Kickstarter project isn’t funded. To me, that would be a terrible, terrible outcome. My initial reaction to hearing this news was to email Laura and offer to help run the site for free. But then I realized that was insane, and would not actually help the site.
So instead, I’m doing the next best thing. Here’s the Kickstarter. Here’s Homicide Watch. Read around the site, look at the interactive map, read last year’s year in review. I don’t fund projects all that often, but I’ve never done so quickly before. Please let me know if you do the same.