How Three Georgia Teens Are Using Tech to Tackle Police Brutality11/25/2015
Young people are changing the world. Widespread, seemingly intractable injustice has spurred Black kids across the country to envision new ...
Young people are changing the world. Widespread, seemingly intractable injustice has spurred Black kids across the country to envision new possibilities and to create tools to make them possible.
Ima, 18, Asha, 15, and Caleb Christian, 15, conceived of an app to track individual interactions with law enforcement on the cusp of a national movement for Black lives. Since it's launch, Five-O has attracted attention all over the world. In December, the sibling development team will travel to the Netherlands where they are finalists for the Innovating Justice Challenge.
Their rise is no mere coincident. The teens emerge at the intersection of technology and structural racism as a testament to the power of solution-based thinking. Those solutions will not come only from traditional activism.
We have to pay attention to the kids. They care, and they're doing the work. For Harriet's editor-in-chief, Kimberly Foster, spoke to the kids about the app and the change you hope to make.
FH: First of all, could you tell me a little bit about Five-0 and why you decided to create it?
Asha: We started building Five-0 in the summer of 2014. That's around the time when the Michael Brown case, and the Trayvon Martin case and other serious police brutality cases were swirling around in the media. That's when it really started becoming something that was within our vision. Then there was an incident within the family that we actually dealt with first hand and we understood this is something that happens more commonly than we thought. There really wasn't a place where we could go and find that information—find what locations have more interaction with law enforcement that are negative versus which ones that have more that are positive.
Caleb: We really felt that not only us but everyone should be able to see this information and to be able to know what's the rating or the score of the police in their area, of the law enforcement in their area.
FH: What type of feedback have you gotten on the app since it's launched?
Asha Boston: We definitely got a lot of feedback. It's something that citizen's recognize as necessary for the communities and something that would benefit them by knowing how other people within their communities interact with law enforcement. Definitely a lot of positive feedback. Some people worry about the positive to negative ratio of reviews but we're really just aiming for the truth in Five-0.
FH: You guys are pretty young right? How old are you Asha, and how old are you Caleb?
Asha: I'm 15.
Caleb: I'm 15.
FH: Right. That is beyond remarkable. I think a lot of people would be surprised that teenagers are even connected to the idea of policing or police misconduct in this way. How did you come really engaged with it?
Caleb: After the incident that happened to our family, we really talked to our parents because it was really scary. We talked to our parents and we really touched on all the issues that are happening in the media. They weren't really happening to people that weren't like us, that weren't teenagers and that weren't black. We really talked to our parents for a long time and through that we saw that, one, the best way to solve this would be to create an app, and , two, that this isn't just a singular issue. This affects more than just us.
Asha: Right. I would say that our parents have always raised us to think in terms of solutions, in terms of solving problems. When we recognized that there are trends in how police officers treat citizens and how police officers treat the people they're interacting with. We thought that there definitely needed to be a way that we could solve the problem and bring some visibility to those situations. We just sat down, brought out a white board and used the same skills that our parents had instilled in us for a while to solve the problem.
FH: What's so dope about this is you used your technological skill to address a larger societal problem. How did you get involved in coding and building apps?
Asha: We've had a background in technology for a while. Our parents really started around middle school for my older sister and I. We started with basic programs like Scratch to learn to program. Then around high school we started taking more technology classes. I took web design and different classes like that.
Caleb: Then after that we really decided that we wanted to build an app. We didn't know how to build apps. We Google searched and we looked at YouTube tutorials. As we went through the process of doing that, we learned how to build apps. We did it as we were building our app.
Asha: Right. We weren't experts in mobile app development but we were able to research.
FH: Incredible. I'm wondering how influential your were parents in cultivating a desire to even work work tech and solve problems in this way?
Caleb: I think our parents were a really big factor in our whole idea and why we wanted to do that, because our mom started off working for an internet start up and she saw how some of these guys didn't even graduate college, how they were just going out and making tons of money because they knew how to code and knew code logic. Then our dad he's really determined and got really good sticktuitiveness and he really instilled those two attributes in us when we were younger.
Asha: We definitely wouldn't have been involved in tech if it wasn't for our parents. They really introduced us to it. They said this is cool, this is something you should learn, and it piqued our interest. They're really the reason why we were at this point right now.
FH: This is a family affair. Are there any drawback or downsides in pursuing a project like this with people you can never get away from?
Caleb: Our family is a really big force in our lives. We don't really get to go to the movies and stuff.
Asha: We, generally, don't go out as much. I think because there are four of us. There are four kids. We really entertain each other and I feel like in working on this project together sometimes we slip into the family mode and we start talking and joking and making fun and then we have to get back to business. It's really just balancing the two. Generally we get along. We're not the average siblings where you're fighting all the time.
FH: You guys have gained a lot of recognition for this app. You've won awards for this app. Did you expect any of this attention at all?
Asha: When we were developing Five-0 I think we all realized this is definitely something that would be necessary and that would be used as a tool within various communities and because we were solving a problem that affected a large amount of people we figured that there is an audience for the application that a lot of people would like to use Five-0.
Caleb: When our story first ran on your website, For Harriet, it really gave us a big boost because thousands of people actually saw what we were doing. From there we just got elevated to other platforms and we got known more in the tech world by in normal people, people who don't know anything about tech.
Asha: We would definitely say that For Harriet's the starting point of Five-0. The only reason why it really got out there.
FH: It is a joy and a pleasure to be able to feature the app. This is such an incredible story. Do you guys consider yourselves to be activists?
Caleb: I just think that the problem that we chose to solve was a really big social issue. There needed to be a solution proposed. I think that we're just one of the solutions that were proposed.
FH: Do you see other opportunities for tech to create or think of new solutions to other social problems, and if you do, which other problems should be the next to be tackled?
Asha: I definitely think that campus sexual assault is one. If there's a way that we could utilize technology to reduce the number of sexual assault cases on campuses that would be great. In addition to that, I'm working on a side project that I'm super passionate about and super excited about that will have a great impact on the African American society so that's cool.
FH: You guys are approaching the age of where you're going to maybe or maybe not choose where to go to college or what you want to do with the rest of your lives. Your older sister is in college now?
Asha: Yeah. Ima's currently away at Stanford University in California.
FH: Awesome. Do you ever consider maybe not going to college and just pursuing app development or tech full time? What's the appeal of pursuing higher education for you?
Caleb: College was a really big idea that our parents always told us to pursue. Then when we became teenagers and we started looking at the entrepreneurial stakes and the app development stakes, we really were open to the idea of not going to college but starting a business. For me, I can't speak for Asha and I can't speak for Ima, but for me I would prefer to go to college just to have that there.
Asha: I think that for me, depending on whether or not, because like I said I was working on the app now so it depends on what stage I'm at in my senior year. If I'm running a company or if the company is successful then I probably won't have enough time to be a full time student or go to college. I definitely considered that but as of right now the plan is to go to college.
Caleb: As of now we don't really but we really want to see a lot more minority kids, a lot more black kids, Latino kids. We really want to see a lot more of them in this space.
Asha: We definitely want to be able to connect with others, but as of right now, there's not much of a connection there.
FH: Do you have any ideas about best practices to reach kids who look like you guys or reach other ethnic minorities and usher them into this space?
Caleb: Over the summer we were also thinking about developing an app called POCIT. It's really a way to get people of color to aggregate a lot of the data, a lot of their webpages and things like that so that big Fortune 500 companies and tech companies can see that and can see that there's a wealth of people that are there that are looking for jobs in that field.
Asha: Just having ways for kids in certain communities to meet up to identify other kids who are minorities to meet up with one another.
FH: What is the next? Five-0 has blown up, so what is your next step for this app and are you working on any other projects? I know Asha, you mentioned a side project that you're interested in?
Asha: Right. I'm going to answer the Five-0 question first. There's definitely a bunch of things that we want to add to Five-0. We're thinking of an emergency button. We want to revamp the user interface. We're hoping that the new connections that we make at the Innovating Justice Forums that's coming in December will be able to help us further those initiatives.
Caleb: As for other projects, we're working with my mom on an event called Youth Code. It's really a way to get younger kids into coding and to learn code logic and things like that. For me personally, I'm working on Lupus research and trying, because Lupus is a really mysterious disease and I'm trying to find a way to demystify that and help better the lives of Lupus patients.
FH: Is there a personal connection that you have with Lupus?
Caleb: Yeah, there is. A few years ago, my aunt passed away from Lupus. That was really the catalyst for me doing this research.
FH: It is so awesome to see you guys identifying problems, identifying these huge societal ills and not running away from them but taking it upon yourself to try to solve them. I really, really appreciate your work, and I am so inspired. Thank you so much for taking some time to talk to me.