On Memorial Day weekend, the New York Times featured a jaw-dropping front page that illustrated the “incalculable loss” of U.S. lives lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, just as that number approached the 100,000 mark. Now, a pair of creatives, RPA Senior Art Director Adrianne Benzion and freelance copywriter Jessica McEwan, are using that format to call attention to another “epidemic” that continues to plague the country—police violence against African Americans.
What they have dubbed “The Incalculable Loss Project” mimics the Times’ front page but replaces the names with those of unarmed African Americans who died during incidents of police brutality. They introduce the project as follows:
For months the media has been focused on Covid-19, which data shows has disproportionately killed black Americans. And due to systemic injustice, black Americans also continue to die at higher rates from a different public health crisis: police violence. We took the iconic New York Times cover from Memorial Day and featured just some of the names of Black lives lost to police violence alongside the status of their case. Because one day, a vaccine will prevent Covid-19. But without police accountability, this disease will continue to ravage America.
The pair pulled data from sites that have been tracking such deaths, mappingpoliceviolence.org and fatalencounters.org. At the top of the project list is George Floyd, whose killing in Minneapolis on Memorial Day has sparked the protests that have continued around the U.S. this past week, but he's followed by countless others.
"We combed through the data to find the most poignant pieces to include what would support the headline and overall story," Benzion says. But unlike the Times’ front page, which included brief bios of individuals who died from the coronavirus, the listings here reveal the status of the investigations on their cases.
According to Benzion, seeing the Times' front page reminded her of the Vietnam Memorial in D.C. and "the names of all the lives cut short, and for nothing," she says. "The names are what is so powerful about that memorial and the NYT cover—they honor the victims. There are so many more black people that have died at the hands of police in addition to the names people are familiar with and we wanted to bring attention to that."
Benzion and McEwan came up with the idea last Thursday and started producing it the following day. "We spent the weekend working on it as the sirens and helicopters passed by our home," she says. "We wanted to mimic the appearance of The Times front page in every way possible," so the craft proved the most time-consuming aspect of the project. Before launching they also conferred with friends working in the social justice space, leading some crucial tweaks to the headline and subhead.
The project site also links to a page that allows visitors to get in touch with their local representatives. "We wanted to include action so that if people feel moved by this they can do something about it," Benzion says.