“U.S. Deaths Near 100,000, An Incalculable Loss“: That was the front-page headline of The New York Times on May 24. Underneath were the names of Americans who had lost their lives to COVID-19. They covered the entire front page.
It was one of several powerful front pages the Times has designed over the past few months to capture the tremendous scale and tragedy of the coronavirus pandemic. And it inspired two creatives to memorialize another unprecedented health crisis: racism against Black Americans. RPA senior art director Adrianne Benzion and freelance copywriter Jessica McEwan duplicated the Times‘s Incalculable Loss cover, but instead of lives lost to COVID-19, the duo pays homage to Black lives lost to the police since 2000.
“When I first saw the original New York Times COVID front page, I thought of the Vietnam Memorial in D.C. The names of all the lives cut short, and for nothing. The names are what is so powerful about that memorial and The New York Times cover—they honor the victims,” says Benzion. “The headline was the most crucial piece of this. Once we figured that out we were able to make every other piece support that. We kept ‘An Incalculable Loss’ from the original headline because, like COVID-19, police brutality and racism [are] a deadly disease for Black Americans.”
To build the page, Benzion and McEwan pulled 350 names from two resources: Mapping Police Violence and Fatal Encounters. While the original Times piece highlighted facts about the victims’ lives to create mini eulogies, this remake reveals the status of the victims’ cases to demonstrate how broken the justice system is. Over and over, you read the same two words: “pending investigation.” It becomes undeniable that a whole lot of police officers have gotten off the hook for murder for a long time.
“We want people to see the names of those murdered and the police departments associated with them and think, George Floyd isn’t the only murder to be angry about. These murders happen all the time in countless communities around the country, not just in Minneapolis,” says Benzion. “As two white women, we are trying to show other white people, this is why Black people are so hurt, angry, and exhausted.”
Since the duo published their front page earlier this month on the website incalculableloss.com, the creators have heard time and time again that it could be a real Times front page. (Indeed, when I first came across it on my Twitter feed, I assumed it was real.) And such a printed memorial couldn’t come at a better moment, as the Times has been rightly criticized for promoting the violent, anti-protestor rhetoric of senator Tom Cotton. The terrible truth is that 1 in 1,000 Black boys and men are killed by police, making police brutality both a leading cause of death for Black people in America, and a true epidemic of our times. And we haven’t even started on the completely disproportionate rate of incarceration yet.