Local journalists talk policing in Baltimore

By TRISHA PARAYIL and JAE CHOI | February 7, 2019

Stephen Janis and Taya Graham, two journalists from The Real News Network (TRNN), discussed their WYPR podcast “Truth and Reconciliation” and policing in Baltimore on Wednesday in Charles Commons. The event was co-sponsored by the Digital Media Center (DMC), The News-Letter and WYPR.

TRNN is an online, independent news organization based in Baltimore. Janis and Graham’s podcast, which is produced out of Baltimore’s NPR-affiliate station, explores the history of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD). 

Janis began the discussion by explaining the challenges that journalists face in the age of the internet and “spot news” — news which is reported as it happens. He sees problems with reporting on events without considering the deeper historical and contextual factors that occurred before.

“One of the charges of an investigative reporter is to dig deeper into something with breadth and scope. But certain subjects and ways that journalism is configured today makes that difficult,” he said

Graham explained that podcasting is an effective way to provide deep coverage while also maintaining people’s attention. Janis added that podcasts offer the public a reference for understanding important issues. 

“We really thought we had to create something that was not just a longer form of media to understand these things but kind of like an archive....so that people could go back and listen and understand how people dealt with these issues and what impact it had on their lives,” Janis said.

Janis and Graham also discussed different subjects explored on their podcast, including the effects of police power and brutality and the factors that led up to the 2015 Baltimore Uprising.

Graham explained that the BPD’s zero-tolerance policy represented the height of its power, leading to over 100,000 arrests per year during the peak of the policy. She added that the Baltimore Uprising occurred not just as a result of Freddie Gray’s death, but also because of long-standing distrust toward police. 

According to Janis, the BPD’s power gives it the ability to shape community relations and influence how Baltimore is viewed. 

“In neighborhoods, not like Charles Village, but in neighborhoods like those where Freddie Gray grew up, policing is ubiquitous,” he said. “[Police] have a real rhetorical control over the dialogue in the city, because the ability to criminalize someone or criminalize the community, or criminalize almost every part of the African-American community gives you certain amounts of rhetorical power to say, ‘this is what this city is’, or ‘this is what’s wrong with the city’.”

Janis and Graham hope that their podcast can provide many different perspectives and offer the public information so that they can better understand the issues and effect change in the community. 

“That is why it’s called Truth and Reconciliation; we have to get to the heart of the truth first. We have to acknowledge the damage that has been done in the community,” Graham said. 

Following the discussion, sophomore Lena Burleson commented that the police may be doing more damage to the community than serving it. 

“The relationship between the police and the community here is really fraught, and it’s definitely an issue that they have to deal with especially since there are so many resources going into the police department,” Burleson said. “So if it’s not serving the community, then we really have to take a hard look at how we can change it.”

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