On June 4, an account named “ct.police.reform.project” appeared on Instagram. Amidst a wave of local accounts created to publicize protests around the country, this page stood out. While other accounts of a similar nature served as merely bulletin boards, this one aimed to take Instagram activism one step further.
Its bio read: “An ongoing CT police reform project aimed at exposing police injustices and creating a plan to promote lasting legislative change.” After only 15 days, the account had amassed almost 3,000 followers and an extensive online research project with 31 cyber-volunteers from all over Connecticut had been launched.
Behind the project and Instagram account is 21-year-old Sophia Daoud, a resident of Greenwich. Daoud is a rising senior at Fordham University, majoring in political science, double minoring in history and American studies, and pursuing an accelerated masters degree in Elections and Campaign Management. She had initially set out to examine police reform in Greenwich, but as the Instagram page garnered more attention from followers all over the state, she broadened the scope of the project.
“I knew it would be much easier if I had help, but I did not anticipate getting the reaction that I did,” explained Daoud.
All of the researchers work off a thorough Google Doc divided into seven areas of focus and 24 subcategories. The seven focus areas are: lawsuits brought against the police; policies and legislation; police training background; policing statistics; statements from Connecticut officials; statements from victims of police brutality, excessive force, and racial profiling in Connecticut; and the school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately punishes Black students and systemically pushes them out of the public school system into the criminal justice system. Each of the seven categories has a group leader and a smaller task force assigned to it.
One of the group leaders is 32-year-old Reginald Saint Fortcolin from Bridgeport. Saint Fortcolin stumbled onto @ct.police.reform.project on Instagram while searching for co-organizers for an event against police brutality in Bridgeport.
I am aware of the fact that, far too often, public officials claim to want change, yet do not implement it unless most of the work is already done for them.
“Being born and raised here, I always believed [Fairfield County] was more progressive and forward thinking than the rest of Connecticut, and kind of held that up as a source of pride,” explained Saint Fortcolin, adding “When you’re faced with so many stories and so much research, assumptions are thrown out the window.”
He has been particularly troubled by the details of the 2017 shooting and death of 15-year-old Jayson Negron by a Bridgeport police officer. Additionally, he has been troubled by the data found in the State of Connecticut’s “Traffic Stop Data Analysis and Findings from 2018” published in May 2020, showing that although minority residents in Darien comprise only 7.2% of the town’s population, they make up almost 40% of all traffic stops.
He expressed his hope to “create some kind of impactful positive change to my community, be it on a local or national scale.” His sentiments were echoed by fellow-researcher, 26-year-old Briana Wahl, contributing from her home in Norwalk. Wahl hopes the project “will be able to create informed citizens, voters and leaders that will continue to mobilize to do anti-racist work.”
In the coming weeks, Daoud and her coalition of Insta-researchers aim to highlight problematic trends across the state and focus on key areas where tangible improvements can be made. Additionally, the group has been combing over statements from local government officials to find their potential allies and possible opponents.
At this time, the group believes that the importance lies in gathering as much information as possible that can then be released to the public. They place great importance on having an informed dialogue about police reform in Connecticut, and will continue to drive that conversation even after the attention of young activists shifts elsewhere.
When asked about her initial motivation to mobilize a group of social media mavens to examine police reform, Daoud answered: “I created this project because as a political science student, I am aware of the fact that far too often, public officials claim to want change, yet do not implement it unless most of the work is already done for them.” Her group is certainly doing that work.
Jessica Freedman of Stamford is a Bill Cibes Journalism intern for the Connecticut Mirror.