Emily Bazelon is a weekly contributor on Slate’s Political Gabfest and a New York Times Magazine staff writer. Her new book, Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration, challenges the disproportionate power of prosecutors and the effect it has on a twenty-year-old in Brooklyn and a teenager in Memphis. Her podcast, Charged: A True Punishment Story follows two different people whose paths cross in the Brooklyn gun court as defendant and prosecution. We asked Emily about creating complementary stories for a book and a podcast.
Pocket Casts: Can you tell us a little bit about the subject of Charged, both the book and the podcast, and how it came about?
Emily: Charged is about the enormous power prosecutors have amassed over the last decades — far more power than our system of criminal justice was designed for — how as a result, they’re the missing piece of the mass incarceration puzzle. It’s also about how a movement has recently sprung up to end mass incarceration, city by city, by electing a new kind of district attorney.
PC: Where in the process did you decide what stories lent themselves to the podcast versus the book and why?
E: When I finished writing the book, I wanted to continue my reporting in Brooklyn, where things were changing in real time. And I wanted listeners to hear the voices of the people I’d met, who I found so compelling, as well as read their words on the printed page.
PC: The podcast focuses on the parallel stories of a defendant and the district attorney. What made you choose to tell the story of D.A. Eric Gonzalez alongside Tamari’s story?
E: I want you to think about the similarities as well as the differences between Brooklyn’s elected D.A. and a defendant in gun court. Eric Gonzalez has an unusual story for a public official and especially for an elected prosecutor. He was raised by a single mom in Williamsburg and East New York and he saw the world of guns and fights and gangs firsthand. He’s also the city’s first Puerto Rican D.A.
PC: What do you want listeners to take away from the podcast?
E: I want them to understand who Tarari and Eric are, how the circumstances of being a young black kid explain why some of them get guns — even if it’s still a misguided choice, I want you to see it through their eyes. And I want listeners to think about why we send young black people to prison for having guns even as groups like the NRA celebrate gun ownership by other young people (ie, white people).
PC: Both books and podcasts are considered by most to be intimate mediums, what do you think differentiates them beyond delivery?
E: Ah, such a great question! Books have more room for explanation and history and analysis. You can go deeper on facts and context. Podcasts offer even more immediacy and intimacy, I think, because you can hear people’s voices. I see the projects as companions to each other, especially because I did fresh reporting for the podcast.
PC: What podcasts are you listening to right now? What are your all-time favorite podcasts?
E: I’m listening to the new season of NPR’s Invisibilia, and as always, The Daily from the New York Times. I love Serial (check out the third season if you like Charged) and Justice in America and Reveal and Uncivil and of course This American Life. For policy, I recommend the Weeds, and for politics, a shout-out to the show I do for Slate every week with John Dickerson and David Plotz — Slate’s Political Gabfest.
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