Mother, author, poet, social justice organizer and youth advocate, “yelder”, mentor and consistent inspiration to us all, our beloved director of Data Justice, Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty, has moved on from her monumental chapter here at Detroit Community Technology Project. Tawana’s work was pivotal to our evolution as an organization and touches all corners of the globe. We’re sending her forward with the deepest love, gratitude, and excitement for what’s next.
Tawana’s active role in the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition brought her to this work, where she collaborated on dozens of DiscoTech events, and the production of the Guidelines for Equitable Open Data made to the City of Detroit. Her commitment to the digital and data safety of Detroiters made her the perfect candidate to join the newly formed Detroit Community Technology Project, which she joined as a community researcher in late 2015. She swiftly stepped into the role of co-lead of the Our Data Bodies (ODB) project, a five-city participatory research and organizing effort focused on the ways our communities’ digital information is collected, stored, and shared by government and corporations. As ODB’s work took off, Tawana also took the charge of following the development of Detroit’s Project Green Light — a surveillance program newly announced in 2016.
With awareness of the pervasiveness of Project Green Light growing, so too did Tawana’s infallible dedication to end the conflation between surveillance, and other “security” technologies, with true safety. Her influence in the Equitable Internet Initiative became testament to putting Data Justice in action and building our own alternatives to harmful, biased tech. Digital Stewards received training in consentful technology, while providing EII Internet subscribers with service that never practices surveillance or data extraction. In immediate contrast, research revealed in 2019 that the Detroit Police Department was using racially biased Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) in conjunction with Project Green Light-- without public knowledge. It was Tawana’s voice, unwavering, to first speak truth to power.
A champion coalition-builder, Tawana joined forces with Green Light Black Futures, Riverwise Magazine, Fight for the Future and others to engage in an expansive campaign to raise public awareness, advocate for meaningful policy and oversight, and combat the negative, decades-long narratives about majority Black Detroit that make possible the city’s blind deference to flawed, dangerous technologies in the name of public safety. She also presented on Detroit’s struggle against mass surveillance at this year’s Black National Convention.
Following more than a year of tireless research and public testimony, coalition pressures have successfully forced DPD’s adoption of a use-policy for facial recognition technology, removing their ability to use real-time surveillance and implementing penalties for officers who violate the policy. The coalition has also collaborated with other cities who have adopted outright bans, Detroit’s ultimate goal. Tawana has collaborated with coalition members, impacted residents and members of the Detroit City Council to push for enshrining protections of civil rights and civil liberties into Detroit’s City Charter (constitution), through a Detroiters’s Bill of Rights (DBOR) presented before the Charter Revision Commission. If successful, the DBOR’s provisions would include a ban on facial recognition, create truly affordable housing, greater water assistance and affordability, offer protections for immigrants, prioritize access, mobility and a right to recreation, as well as strengthen civilian oversight of policing and surveillance. Coalition efforts have also influenced legislatures locally and beyond to weigh in on bills to restrict public and private access to FRT.
Tawana leaves DCTP and the broader digital and data justice eco-system with a staggering library of resources, after countless hours of research, working groups, interviews and advisory teams. Please find some of the fruits of her four years of loving labor with us below:
- Opening Data Zine
- Opening Data 2
- A Critical Summary of Detroit’s Project Green Light and Its Greater Context
- Digital Defense Playbook
- Riverwise Magazine: Detroiters want to be seen, not watched
- A Toolkit for Centering Racial Equity Throughout Data Integration
- Op-ed: Defending Black Lives Means Banning Facial Recognition
- Blog: Watched and Still Dying
- The right to safety in the Detroiters’ Bill of Rights
- Technologies for Liberation: Towards Abolitionist Futures
- Green Chairs, Not Green Lights
- Safe or Just Surveilled?
- Consentful Tech guidebook in collaboration with Consentful Tech Project (coming soon!)
- Opening Data 3 Zine (coming soon!)
As we love to love in the Allied Media Conference (AMC) universe, one thing always leads to another. We are thrilled that Tawana’s path from DCTP has led her to the incredible team at Data 4 Black Lives, where she will serve as the National Organizing Director. Honeycomb will surely be an ultra presence of love and power at the AMC, within the Detroit Equity Action Lab, and through her personal project, Petty Propolis. We greatly look forward to her wisdom and mentorship through the DDJC, which has enjoyed her leadership through to 10-years of coalition work. We are grateful for all the events that led Tawana to our team, and the world to her voice. Please join us in celebrating the future of all things Honeycomb, and in giving her her flowers.
✨✨✨ With deep gratitude, Tawana, we thank you! ✨✨✨