As journalists, we’ve done breaking news, in-depth reporting, data-driven projects. But over the years, we’ve seen our profession hit hard and coverage gaps widen as there are far fewer journalists working today than when we started out.
The result is that stories are simply being missed. Especially those that happen largely out of the public eye and involve critical issues that are complex and often overshadowed. That’s why we’re launching this podcast, to give obscured stories the attention they deserve and hopefully share something with you that you might not have known before.
As part of our approach, we’ll be mixing it up:
- Original limited series where we dive deep on an obscured issue
- Conversational interview episodes with policy professionals, researchers and journalists
- Revisiting some of our past reporting and finding out what has happened since we were last on the beat
- Community-focused panel discussions
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On this introductory episode, meet Emily and Stephanie. They tell the story of how their journalism careers crisscrossed several times before their collaboration and what led them to launching this new podcast for underreported, complex issues missed by the daily news cycle.
Over the last several years, book bans across the United States have increased. But there’s been less attention paid to restrictions on the right to read within prisons and jails and perhaps even more so than before. As part of Banned Books Week, we’re building on our previous reporting and bringing you the latest developments on the issue. To learn more about this issue, you can also check out Kouvenda Media’s original series: Restricted Reading.
Fatal law enforcement encounters have understandably – and deservedly – captured our attention. But the tens of thousands of Americans who survive trauma inflicted by law enforcement every year are often overlooked. They go without the kind of support our systems offer to survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and other forms of trauma. If survivors of other traumas often turn first to police, where are survivors of law enforcement trauma supposed to go? Not to mention, law enforcement often plays a significant role in survivor support beyond that (such as by funding other services and advising providers & policymakers).
On this episode, Emily and Stephanie preview Obscured’s first limited series, From Words to Weapons. They explain why this topic is the focus of their inaugural series and share highlights of interviews with law enforcement professionals, trauma survivors, healthcare providers, attorneys, social workers, journalists and researchers.
Links of interest mentioned in this episode:
No Justice for All: Pennsylvania’s unequal access to adequate public defense
At the Core of Care
In Episode 1 of the From Words to Weapons series, we begin with Jimmy Warren’s story. It’s the first time he’s talking publicly about his gun case that made national headlines in 2016 when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court overturned his conviction, ruling that police hadn’t had reasonable suspicion to stop him in the first place.
That decision attracted attention because it established running from police doesn’t necessarily justify a police pursuit, doesn’t automatically mean someone’s guilty and could seem like the logical thing to do given generational trauma over law enforcement – in communities of color, in particular. And that police need to consider that when evaluating whether a pursuit is legally justified. The thing is, no one ever heard from Jimmy. He wasn’t interviewed by any reporters. The lawyer who handled his newsworthy appeal case never even met him, despite efforts to find him. It’s like the case had a life of its own without him. In this episode, we hear about his story and the pervasiveness of law enforcement trauma and its effects.
Links to research mentioned in this episode:
Latent Class Profiles of Police Violence Exposure in 4 US Cities and Their Associations with Anticipation of Police Violence and Mental Health Outcomes(Leslie Salas-Hernández, et. al)
From Words to Weapons Episode 2 focuses on barriers to law enforcement accountability with Joanna Schwartz. Law enforcement accountability in the United States is complex and challenging, especially when it comes to trying to sue the police.
On this episode, Emily Previti and Stephanie Marudas turn to UCLA Law Professor Joanna Schwartz, a leading expert on police misconduct litigation in the United States and the author of the 2023 book Shielded: How the Police Became Untouchable.
Joanna discusses various barriers to law enforcement accountability based on her experience suing the police on behalf of clients and her extensive research.
The conversation covers issues including qualified immunity, plausible claims and public access laws, as well as emerging laws, policies and alternative models for law enforcement accountability.
Links of Interest mentioned in this episode:
From Words to Weapons Episode 3 focuses on Chester Hollman III, who spent nearly three decades in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, and the broader political fight over state-administered compensation for people who’ve been wrongfully convicted. A few years ago, Chester was the subject of a Netflix documentary; this episode picks up where that story left off. We talk with Chester about how he’s managing his mental health after being exonerated and now helping others rebuild their lives after prison. Through Chester’s post-incarceration story, we also unpack efforts and obstacles to support exonerees legislatively (fruitless thus far in Pennsylvania, among just a dozen states without wrongful conviction compensation laws) and politically (the Pa. GOP’s quest to oust Philly’s progressive district attorney was peaking while Chester was engaging with us for this podcast).
Links of interest:
Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States
From Words to Weapons Episode 4 delves into community trauma interventions with Arturo Zinny. The conversation explores what takeaways there might be for people working to address law enforcement trauma and navigating relationships among institutions and communities with lived experience.
There’s a small network of researchers and policy makers, around the United States, who are thinking about how to support people who’ve experienced traumatic encounters with law enforcement.
To better understand what that might entail, Emily Previti and Stephanie Marudas have been talking to public health practitioners who’ve done adjacent work, hoping to learn about any models that might be analogous and provide more context about these sorts of interventions.
On this episode, Emily and Stephanie speak with Philadelphia-based public health researcher Arturo Zinny. Arturo is Executive Director of Drexel University’s Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice where he previously served as director of Healing Hurt People, which helps individuals cope with community violence. He’s also a Stoneleigh Foundation fellow and is researching how evidence-based, trauma-informed practices affect the mental health of youth survivors of violence.
On Episode 5 of the From Words to Weapons series, Hector Rivera shares his experiences of surviving police brutality and seeking accountability. His experiences point to the lack of an effective, uniform structure for police accountability in the United States. Instead, solutions – and outcomes – vary from city to city. And experts on law enforcement oversight say it almost has to be that way.
In context of Hector’s story, Emily Previti breaks down what police oversight currently looks like in Philadelphia where she lives.
Just a heads-up: on this episode, we’re really getting into the weeds about this topic that’s so often obscured.
Links of interest:
From Words to Weapons Episode 6 focuses on how county jails treat people with mental health conditions.
Emily Previti and Stephanie Marudas talk with Pennsylvania-based journalist Brett Sholtis, who investigated this issue in Pennsylvania, about what that looks like and obstacles he’s faced during his reporting.
Brett investigated interactions between corrections officers and inmates with mental health conditions; specifically, how tasers, restraints and other types of force are utilized within county jails.
The conversation also delves into how the lack of transparency can prevent accountability and public understanding of these issues.
Links of interest:
Fellow @WITF alum @emily_previti and @KouvendaMedia Stephanie Marudas spoke with me for this really thoughtful, nuanced series they've put together. The podcast is called Obscured, and its mission spoke to me. Give it a listen, follow the pod and LMK what you think!
Now available, Episode 5: Hector Rivera’s Story, Inconsistent Accountability & Revamping Civilian Oversight. Listen & subscribe for free episodes.