Homan Square

Homan Square

Organisation: The Guardian US (United States)

Publication Date: 04/08/2016

Size of team/newsroom:large


Beginning in February 2015, the Guardian revealed and investigated a secretive warehouse where Chicago police detained and interrogated thousands of people without contemporaneous notification of their whereabouts or access to an attorney. What began with shoe-leather reporting – collecting and checking the accounts of what would become over two dozen former detainees at the Homan Square complex – expanded to an extended Freedom of Information lawsuit that has resulted in the disclosure of hundreds of pages of never-before-public police documents. The documentation, contradicting public statements made by the Chicago police, showed that at least 7185 people, over 6000 of them black, were held incommunicado at Homan Square by Chicago police between August 2004 and June 2015.

What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?

We combined routine reporting – interviewing former Homan Square arrestees & attorneys whose access to the warehouse police blocked, acquiring publicly available Chicago police arrest records, collecting police statements, attempting to gain access to Homan Square – with a legal challenge to the secrecy surrounding the warehouse. Our ongoing lawsuit pierced the veil of police denial by forcing the Chicago police to release internal documentation showing that the incommunicado detentions and interrogations are routinized and widespread at the warehouse. Additionally, the Guardian's US interactive team created a vivid animated graphic to visually represent the scale of the detentions, the locations around Chicago from where police took men to Homan Square, the disproportionate racial impact of Homan Square and the offenses for which Homan Square arrestees were later charged. The team created the visualization to put Homan Square in context without jeopardizing the anonymity of thousands of people who might become subject to reprisal by either police or criminals.

Technologies used for this project:

We used Three.js, a WebGL framework, for rendering thousands of records at 60 frames per second, and our own rendering library Ractive.js to handle the rest of the content and user interface. We developed a custom framework for managing the scene transitions and adapting the content to different environments, including those where WebGL is not supported.
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