Activists striving for racial justice: Nissa D. Tzun, Forced Trajectory Project

Nissa D. Tzun
Photo: Mikayla Whitmore / Courtesy Forced Trajectory Project

In 2009, Nissa D. Tzun co-founded the Forced Trajectory Project in Brooklyn, New York. A special needs teacher at the time, Tzun says “systemic racism was very blatant” within New York schools. “As an educator and an artist, I felt like I had to do more.”

Tzun jumped into anti-racism and anti-war organizing and worked as a photographer for the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition. When Tzun was asked to photograph a Long Island family whose loved one had been killed by police, the seed for FTP-—a multimedia project documenting the effects of police violence—was planted.

“In meeting this family, I was really surprised by their narrative,” Tzun recalls. “It was completely different from the newspaper narrative.”

Tzun asked herself, “Is this a pattern, or is this just a fluke?” After studying different cases, Tzun discerned that there were all-too-common similarities in police brutality reports and the stories being shared with the public.

“The whole point of FTP is to shine a light on [families’] paths after their loved ones are killed,” Tzun says. “We hear the nationally known cases, but we don’t often know about the cases that happen in our ZIP code, and that has to do with the disconnect of mainstream journalism and the community.”

A master’s degree student in social work and journalism, Tzun launched an internship program in 2018 through UNLV’s department of Journalism and Media Studies. Though it’s currently on pause due to the pandemic, FTP has trained more than 10 interns to date.

As a whole, FTP advocates for roughly 20 different families in Las Vegas—along with "hundreds more" across the nation—that have been affected by police homicide or brutality, Tzun says.

Last year, FTP organized in protest of SB242, a bill designed to strengthen the rights of police officers under investigation. “It keeps their misconduct files away from the public eye,” Tzun says. “They’re sealed records, so that’s created a veil of secrecy around police violence.”

Though the amendment to Nevada’s Peace Officers Bill of Rights passed, Tzun and the affected families strategized a response and testified against two sections of the bill—including one that would have allowed police to redact officers’ faces in body camera footage—ultimately getting them removed.

A two-time Davis-Putter scholar, Mass Liberation Project consultant, a Center for Community Change communications fellow and a 2019-2020 Jesse Lloyd O’Connor scholar, Tzun says keeping the public informed is more important now than ever before.

“Getting people to deeply listen to this information is challenging,” she says, adding that there’s little advocacy out there for families affected by police homicide or brutality. “Families don’t have access to funds to bury their loved ones. They don’t have access to mental health care if they need it.”

It’s for these reasons that Tzun calls community engagement “crucial.” “We believe that our work provides a unique portal to these narratives, and that those narratives need to be considered if we want to see an end to police violence,” Tzun says. “What’s missing is that connecting piece.”

For information on Forced Trajectory Project, follow @forcedtrajectory on Instagram.

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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