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Beyond the numbers, AP puts faces to the disparity in road fatalities for communities of color

In a long-exposure photo made May 25, 2022, traffic drives past a makeshift memorial for Samara Banks and her three children who were struck and killed by a car in 2013 on Roosevelt Boulevard in Philadelphia. The Boulevard, sometimes called “the corridor of death,” is among the highly dangerous traffic areas in communities of color throughout the U.S. suffering from disproportionately high rates of vehicle fatalities and poor infrastructure. (AP Photo / Matt Rourke)

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The national numbers were stark: Road fatalities increased during the pandemic with a disproportionate impact on communities of color. As federal officials vowed action, AP journalists looking at issues of inequality proposed putting faces to the disturbing numbers.

Reporter Claudia Lauer suggested looking at Philadelphia, which had glaring examples of Black and brown neighborhoods that had experienced a disproportionate number of hit-and-runs or suffered from poor infrastructure, such as no sidewalks or sheltered bus stops. Roosevelt Boulevard was the place to tell the story, visually and statistically, from the perspective of people killed doing everyday activities we take for granted: going to the store, walking home from the movies, attending a family gathering or getting off the bus.

Lauer worked with survivors’ groups and other organizations to find families who had lost people to traffic violence while data journalist Angel Kastanis analyzed the statistics. Lauer and photographer Matt Rourke singled out the worst spots on the boulevard and Rourke spent several weeks, between other assignments, getting distinctive photos to illustrated the problems. Baltimore-based photographer Julio Cortez joined and provided sweeping drone images that capture the most dangerous intersections and their surrounding neighborhoods.

While Lauer talked to impacted families and Rourke photographed interviews, video journalist Noreen Nasir of the race and ethnicity team shot footage — some of the most striking shows kids stuck on the median as cars whiz past. She also spent weeks convincing a victim’s family that video at the cemetery would be essential to telling the story. Multimedia journalist Kevin Vineys rounded out the production with a visualization of the multilane thoroughfare.

The finished package goes beyond other news organizations have reported on the fatalities,telling the tale of an infrastructure that fails residents. The work put faces to the statistics and showcased how vehicle traffic is just one of the significant challenges that Black and brown communities must overcome.

Although the story focused on Philadelphia, AP’s Top Stories Hub reported that it ran on the front page of papers across the country from California to Nebraska to Florida; many have similar road conditions. The story also led the U.S. news section of the AP News app for hours and was flagged as an Editor’s Pick on Tuesday.

Advocates and associations dealing with traffic safety thanked Lauer for bringing the issue to the national forefront in a way that the numbers alone could not. Members of the public who lost friends or family expressed gratitude that the specific problems on one Philadelphia boulevard were aired.

For looking beyond the numbers to the lives of the people who live on the median,figuratively and literally,Lauer, Rourke and Nasir earn AP’s Best of the Week — Second Winner honors.

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