By Jennifer Zheng ’17 and Kamilla Khavasova ’17
Four journalists came together at Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts at Long Island University on Thursday, April 7, 2016 for a seminar on “Reporting on Race in America.” Each one of them had a story to tell on what they encountered while reporting their award winning stories.
The George Polk Awards was created in 1949 to not only memorialize George Polk but to create an award that was more notable than other journalism honors. The award doesn’t acknowledge the news organizations or publishers, but the investigative reporters themselves.
“I think it means a lot to win a Polk Award,” said award-winning journalist John Darton. “Because it’s got this sense of history to it and sense of being special, it’s almost like a journalist inside a reward.”
This year it was given to Nikole Hannah-Jones from The New York Times, Jamie Kalven from The Invisible Institute, and Wesley Lowery from The Washington Post.
Jones was awarded the 2015 George Polk Award for Radio Reporting for her white resistance to school integration in the school district bordering Ferguson, Missouri. Kalvin was given the award for his article on the death of Laquan McDonald in Chicago. Lowery was granted the award for his national reporting on an in-depth study of killings done by police officers.
The discussion began when moderator Charlayne Hunter-Gault asked how Kalven came to do the story of a 17 year old black boy shot 16 being obviously killed by a police officer.
“So I’ve gotten a lot of acknowledgement recently for that particular story but I think the critical point is it would not exist if it wasn’t for a whistleblower,” replied Kalven.
Kalven went on to say that there are police in the force who think and know what they are doing is wrong. He recalls from interviewing witnesses of McDonald that the Chicago police abused their power.
“There’s been so much that has come out and so we know on molecular level that the code of silence worked when the child was still bleeding out on the street officers were on the street shooing away occurrence witnesses, people that just witnessed the homicide,” said Kalven.
He learned that several witnesses were taken down to the police station, but when they tried to express themselves, they were told that it was not what had occurred at the scene.
Kalven revealed that he stood in the rain for 20 minutes as he spoke to the father of Laquan McDonald. After Kalven published his article many more news organizations began picking up on police shooting stories.
Lowery stated that although officers are wearing body cameras, the footage is never show to the general public or ever shared with the victim’s family. However, he stated that the officers are allowed to watch the video as they give their testimony.
The audience was filled with gasps and the feeling of shock was in the air as Lowery disclosed the information.
Lowery said the great problem America faces is the number of unsolved homicides. He said the criminal justice system is illegitimate.
“That is fundamentally what we’re graphing with in a broad matter of sense that we have a justice system but if that justice system fails to secure justice for its people, is that social contract void,” said Lowery
Lowery said on the panel that he expected only to be on the job for three days to report the article, but he ended up staying for three months.
Lowery focused his research around how many people are killed by police shootings every year. To him it was shocking that this statistic was not tracked and accounted for.
“We have the police working on the salary paid by the taxpayers, carrying guns paid by the taxpayers with bullets paid by the taxpayers, killing taxpayers,” said Lowery.
He asked if The Washington Post could track and count how many people are killed each year by police shootings. Then, Lowery stated that originally it was just him and a few other editors when they started the project but now this is a year round project
Moderator Gault then tied Jones to the discussion by asking her how she felt on segregation and crimes.
“This is kind of the irony that the media had a hard time grasping black communities are both over policed and under policed,” Jones said.
She said there’s this notion that poor black communities accept crime, or don’t want protection for their property and themselves. However, Jones said that notion is completely ludicrous.
“What they don’t want is to be abused and harassed walking down the street and getting stopped by the police,” said Jones.
She said there are communities where they are constantly being harassed, however, when they need the police, they cannot get the police to come or care. Jones said we know what good policing looks like, most often we see it in middle class and white communities.
“Black people commit a disproportionate amount of murders but there are a lot of murders being committed by white people,” said Jones. “I think it’s about half of all the murders, but we don’t talk about crime that way and part of the problem is because is segregation crime is concentrated in certain black communities, it’s spread out across white communities.”
Jones pointed out an important detail that even though there are murders being committed by white people, they are not harassing every white male the way they are harassing the males in black communities.