Episode 62 - Local Media Supports Mass Incarceration

Transcript, Web links and Credits below.


All over the country, voters in America’s largest cities are deciding that they want to reform the justice system from the inside out, and they are doing that, in great part, by ousting horrible district attorneys and replacing them with brilliant new ones. It’s happened in Philly, in St. Louis, in Boston, in San Antonio, in Dallas. But suddenly, in each of those places, the state governments — after allowing DA’s to run the local justice system for 100+ years — are suddenly trying to steal control back and limit the power of the DA. And you’ll never guess who’s helping them.

If we didn’t live in the age of Trump, it’d be a national scandal. I’m gonna unpack and explain it and then tell us what we can do about it.

Let’s dig in.

This is Shaun King and you are listening to (The Breakdown)!


If you are an avid listener of The Breakdown, then you already know that the United States is the incarceration nation. We lock up more people — both in terms of the total number of people, and the percentage of our citizens — not just more than any country in the world, but the United States locks up more people than any country in the history of the world. Over 10 million people per year are locked up here. We have more laws than any country in the world. We have more prisons, prosecutors, and police departments than any country in the world.

And all of those people support a complex industry, providers of billions of dollars of goods and services from thousands of for profit companies — including many of the prisons and detention centers themselves. And I have to start here because I need you to understand that capitalism and the industries that come out of it, they will always fight to the death to survive. And incarceration is one of the largest, most profitable industries in this nation. Millions of people are making their living off of it.

And millions more, aren’t directly making a living off of it, but they are directly benefiting off of the consequences of mass incarceration. I won’t unpack it today, but gentrification and mass incarceration are like two peas in a pod. They aren’t distant cousins — they’re siblings. And so, whenever we fight back against mass incarceration, people in power — both politicians and corporations alike — best believe they aren’t going to walk away with a whimper. Not happening.

And what we’re starting to notice across the country is now that our District Attorneys are getting into office — completely changing the game by refusing to use the testimony of corrupt cops, by refusing to criminalize poverty and drug addiction and homelessness and mental health — we’re seeing two primary groups of people start to fight back.

Let me break it down. (Break it down music)

If you ask a Deep South conservative — they will tell you that the Civil War, which was the bloodiest, deadliest war ever waged on this soil, where over a million people died or disappeared and a million more lost at least a limb, if you ask a Deep South conservative, they will tell you that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery (it was), but they will tell you that it was about the rights of local governments and local voters to control their own cities and states without interference.

Now any historian will tell you that the Civil War was about slavery, and it was about the South fighting to want to be able to maintain slavery, and to be more clear, it was about white people and white power, wanting to keep four million enslaved Africans in bondage, working for free. That’s what it was really about.

But even after the Civil War, for the next hundred years, from the 1860s until the 1960s, conservatives in the South, month after month, year after year, fought against federal interference in their governments because they said they believed in states’ rights and local control of government. Just go with me here.

For over 200 years in this country, conservatives said they preferred local control of government and that they hated outside interference with their local government. They said they went to war for this.

That’s interesting because now that a grassroots movement has seized control of the local justice systems in cities all over this country, by ousting their horrible conservative District Attorneys — and to be clear, when I say conservative I mean Democrat & Republican — now that we are ousting their horrible, heartless District Attorneys, guess what we’re starting to see?

In Texas, in Massachusetts, in Pennsylvania — we’re starting to see the conservative Governors, and Attorney Generals, and State legislatures in those states all of a sudden stop caring about local rights and local voters and local governments. Now that we are putting women and men in those positions that are determined to reform and change the system from the inside out, we’re seeing conservative governments now say, “Hey, we know we claimed that we hate outside interference into local governments for the past 200 years, but now we want to interfere in local governments and limit the power of District Attorneys.” This is literally never happened before — at least not on this scale — where local voters voted in amazing new leaders to serve as DA, but state governments are moving to strip their powers now that they see what we’re able to do with good, compassionate people in those positions. And they’re doing this based on campaigns of lies and complete fabrications that allege that these new District Attorneys don’t value public safety and that crime waves are exploding because these DA’s are in office — which is happening absolutely nowhere.

And here’s what’s going to blow your mind. Guess who is fueling the movement behind trying to discredit and defame these new progressive men and women who are reforming the justice system?

The local media. (Let me break it down)

When cities begin to adopt reforms to their justice system, the local media plays a HUGE role in the public’s perception of the success or failure of those reforms because the local media is often the primary means by which people assess their own safety. Local journalists not only determine what aspects of the justice system to cover, they provide the framework through which people understand policies, largely guiding whether communities perceive their justice system to be fair and effective.

Unfortunately, though, most local news media follows the adage that, “If it bleeds, it leads.” What happens is that when reforms pass and new DA’s start to advance great new policies that make the justice system more fair, the local media regularly lets police departments and police unions come on air to uncritically perpetuate lies that randomly link recent criminal justice reforms to a particular crime or tragedy. And then local journalists rarely investigate the lies told by police before repeating them, often cherry-picking data to paint the most alarming picture, then burying contradictory facts. We see it over and over again.

And in the entire country, no two cities, and their local media outlets, have done more to perpetuate the lies of local police departments and police unions than that of Boston and Philadelphia. It’s been disgusting from the day Rachael Rollins became DA of Boston & Suffolk County and Larry Krasner became DA of Philadelphia.

In Boston, District Attorney Rachael Rollins, who is my friend (our team at Real Justice fought hard to elect her), has stated that she’s flat out going to stop prosecuting a long list of low-level non-violent offenses. She has said that she’s going to stop requiring cash bail for most non-violent offenders and that from this point forward, her office will consider the role of drug addiction, mental illness, and even poverty before making charging and sentencing decisions.

And of course, the local police departments hate it, because they often measure success by arrests and convictions alone — which is a major problem. And because TV stations and newspapers like The Boston Globe get so many of their stories from police, they often just parrot and repeat whatever police tell them. For instance:

July 6, Boston Globe: The Globe published an article about Rollins’s diversion of people away from jail and prison. To criticize those policies, the article relied on Boston Police Union President Mike Leary unsubstantiated claim that District Attorney Rollins’s policies will lead to “open drug dealing” and increases in violent crime. The Globe did not probe this claim, it didn’t push back, it did not note there was no evidence for it — it merely printed the lies, leaving Leary’s claim that, “Crime will go up. Shootings will occur,” unchallenged.

We’re seeing the same thing happen in Philadelphia.

In Philly, District Attorney Larry Krasner is against the criminalization of poverty and is against the use of cash bail in general for people who simply cannot afford it. He has said that he wants to reduce prosecution of theft under $500, that he’s going to decline to prosecute marijuana and most prostitution case, that he’s going to shorten probationary periods, and aim to eliminate many fines and fees.

Not only that, but DA Krasner was the first DA in the nation to make a public list of all of the corrupt and racist police officers whose testimony he would no longer allow in court.

And like clockwork, any time a crime happens in Philadelphia, the police department blames it on Larry Krasner. And guess who prints those lies over and over again? The local paper – The Philadelphia Inquirer.

And so today, we’re going to push back against this biased, and racist coverage not just in The Boston Globe and The Philadelphia Inquirer, but in newspapers all over the country?

Let me share a very simple action step with you today! (Action Step Music)

I simply want you to write your local newspaper, and ask them to share their policy on allowing police officers and police unions to make unproven, unsubstantiated claims. Don’t just write a letter to the editor, we want you to ask staff and reporters at your local paper, to give you their actual policies on simply accepting what police departments and unions say at face value.


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Produced by Willis Polk II

Additional Production by Christian “Idrys” Shannon

Additional Instrumentation by Christian “Idrys” Shannon, Lance "Lance Fury" Powlis & Markeith Black

Additional Engineering by Amond “AJ” Jackson for Salem Psalms Library

Additional Vocals by Garnett “Natti” Bush, Jason Coffey & Miranda pka 1stLAdy

Scratches by Kenny “DJ FlipFlop” Vanderberg