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November 29, 2022
Pod Save The People
Tap In (with Wendy Sawyer)

In This Episode

DeRay, Myles, De’Ara and Kaya  cover the underreported news of the week— including a hip-hop store ran by undercover cops, Chance the Rapper’s free music festival in Ghana, top universities boycott school rankings, and a pedophilic Balenciaga ad campaign. DeRay interviews Wendy Sawyer of the Prison Policy Initiative and her most recent report titled All Profit, No Risk: How the bail industry exploits the justice system.


DeRay  https://www.vice.com/en/article/dy74jk/fake-record-store-operation-peyzac

De’Ara  https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/chance-the-rapper-interview-black-star-line-festival-ghana-1234635605/

Kaya  https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/18/us/law-school-rankings-test-scores.html

Myles  https://www.forbes.com/sites/pamdanziger/2022/11/25/balenciagas-teddy-bear-ad-is-a-warning-against-pushing-luxury-too-far/?sh=52dff4b05fd1






DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, this is DeRay. And welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode, it’s me, Kaya, Myles, and De’Ara talking about all the news that you don’t know from the past week, the underreported news with regard to race, justice, and equity. The news that you should know. And then I sit down and talk to Wendy Sawyer, the research director at the Prison Policy Initiative, an organization that I love that does incredible research around incarceration and all the things about criminal justice reform. We talk about bail bondsman, a topic that I didn’t know as much about and I hope you learn about, too. Here we go. The advice for this week is to reconnect with old friends. I had a great dinner with a old college friend. We were in the same city, had dinner, hadn’t talked to him in a long time and it was like, wild, we spent so much time together in college but hadn’t hadn’t just connected in a long time. So reach out to old friends. 


De’Ara Balenger: Family. Welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. I am De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on Instagram at @dearabalenger 


Myles Johnson: I’m Myles E. Johnson. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter at @pharaohrapture


Kaya Henderson: I’m Kaya Henderson on Twitter at @HendersonKaya


DeRay Mckesson: And this is DeRay on Twitter as it still exists for now at @deray 


Kaya Henderson: I’m waiting for the memo. I’m just waiting for Black Twitter to send me the memo saying, Girl, get off and, you know. But we still there. 


De’Ara Balenger: Oh, goodness. So, ugh so many things going on in the world. I feel like there’s been one mass shooting after another. Uh, really beginning with Colorado Springs, where a gunman walked into an LGBTQ nightclub and opened fire. And so, you know, I’m sure everyone. I’m hoping everyone is paying attention to this and and has been following it um. But five people were killed. Um. A lot more were injured. Um. The suspect is under arrest now. He faces five counts of first degree murder, five counts of a bias motivated crime causing bodily injury. Um. He’s in police custody. Uh. I mean, it’s just I think what was what seemed to bring I mean, comfort is not the right word. I mean, I don’t even know the word for it. But the gunman was brought down by folks in the nightclub. And it’s been interesting, because I’ve also seen conversations online by like folks in this nightclub bringing this gunman down. But yet, in just interesting contrast between um how, you know, how long a gunman was was was able to to to cause um irreparable harm. So I don’t know, I don’t have a lot of commentary other than I feel like we’re going to continue to go through this over and over again without a change to our gun laws and also without changes culturally in this country. But um yeah, it’s just continues to be wild. 


Kaya Henderson: I mean, we also had the mass shooting in Chesapeake, Virginia, at the Walmart. We had a mass shooting in Atlanta. Um. I mean, this weekend was or this past week was a lot. And it’s so fascinating you know, you watch the Sunday news shows and the Republicans say mental health crisis and a Democrat says, you know, ban assault weapons. And, you know, when I think about other countries and how one of the statistics that I heard on Sunday was that um America has more guns than people. And like we don’t I once heard Arne Duncan say like he thought he he he thought that America didn’t care about Black and Brown people shooting each other. But after Sandy Hook, he realized that America loved guns more than they love it’s chi– our children. And like it is baffling if if anything, like when when car crashes were killing people, we were like, oh, you gotta use your seatbelts. When cigarettes were killing people were like, Oh, you got to stop smoking cigarettes. And you know, all of these, this proliferation of guns and we’re like, Oh, no, we got to protect gun manufacturers and the Second Amendment. Like, what is this? What kind of illness is this that we have? 


Myles Johnson: You know, of course, I agree with, you know, a ban on guns. And then I also agree with [?] mental health help. But the thing during these kind of moments that always I return to is the fact that we nurture a culture where people want to kill other people. But sometimes they we talk about um these remedies that I feel like are just topical. But that thing is, for whatever reason, we know the reason, America produces people who brutalize and murder other people and produces communities of people that harbor hate and that go and act out on that hate. And every now and then, and the now and thens end up becoming more frequent. We get these big expressions of violence that is not just a discussion on The View or, you know, some bad takes on a Fox News network. It’s a real result. People are really dead and we realize, wow, America really produces our monsters and they’re not just born, they are made. And I think that we have to address the things that are [cough] excuse me, we have to address the things that are creating these monsters. And if we don’t do that, unfortunately, I don’t think there’s any type of thing topically, whether it be about guns or mental health, that’s going to stop people who want to harm and kill other people from finding a way to harm and kill other people. 


DeRay Mckesson: The only thing I got to add is that I’m reminded that before the bullets come, so many other things. And you know, you think about what’s happening with the right. You think about like all the homophobia. You think about how people have normalized homophobia as like a take and a position and like a political view like it’s no longer to some people, like hate speech. It’s like, oh, well they just don’t, or they believe in family and and the normalization of hate like it necessarily is has an output like that is like what happens. Like people act on it. People feel like it is their duty. People feel like it’s their call. Like and we have just like Myles said, we’ve normalized this idea that, like, if you believe something strongly, you can act on it even when it [indistinct]. And that makes me worry. But I’m al– I always think about, like, way before the bullet. It’s like all these things that are just normalized, this response to hate or this like this, the way that hate sort of manifests in the world. In um and that makes me sad. And, you know, it was a drag queen like as we said right it was a drag queen took the shoe off and beat the living daylights out of the shooter. And a dad– 


Kaya Henderson: Yes! 


DeRay Mckesson: –was there supporting a child. Right. Like a reminder that we really at the end of the day, all that, you know, you think about all the money we’ve poured into policing and security systems and bouncers and and all the things. And when push came to shove, none of those kept anybody safe. Right? In that moment, it was us. We kept ourselves safe. 


Kaya Henderson: Yes. Oh, my gosh. That’s a word that’s a, I mean and it I mean, to your point, DeRay about before the bullets, right? This is what these book bans are about, right? Like not allowing young people to learn about other young people and to empathize with young people who might be different from themselves. And so you breed this separation and this hate and this fear from the very beginning. And so, you know, over time, that is the logical outcome. And and we don’t want to do anything about it like. Yeah. Hmm.


De’Ara Balenger: Oh, well, the other thing we don’t know what to do about is Kanye West. [laughter]


DeRay Mckesson: Girl you and the segues really take me all the way out. 


De’Ara Balenger: I don’t. Listen, I am. I’m tired of talking about Kanye West. I don’t. I mean, I don’t know if we. I guess we have to talk. Do we have to talk about him? I don’t know. The latest is he’s running for president. We all know he was going to run for president. He’s already got little merch made. Kanye or Ye I’m sorry his name is Ye now he changed his name to Ye West. Um and so he, there’s a video goi– and it’s not funny, but I laughed. He has a video going around that he tried to use his apple pay and he could not use it because Adidas has frozen every single dime he has, including whatever is connected to his apple pay. I didn’t even know rich people used Apple Pay like that. And this is Apple Pay connected to an account that has $324 million dollars in it? Because that is evidently what they froze in term, that’s what they’re suing him for. So I’m just like, I don’t know, I guess I just think of like people like Kanye West having like gold bars in their basement or something. But I guess he did not plan for this. So but he’s you know, he’s making campaign videos I think I saw somewhere and um having back and forths with our queen Vivica A Fox.


Kaya Henderson: What? Wait I didn’t hear this. I didn’t hear this. 


Myles Johnson: What happened?


De’Ara Balenger: He made a campaign video of all the celebrities that were like badmouthing him. Aka just, you know, being honest. And he put the video out. And I guess Vivica A. Fox is one of the celebrities in the video. And so she then went back to him and was like, thank you for watching my podcast. [laughter]


Kaya Henderson: Um. He also, you know, he went to dinner with–


De’Ara Balenger: That’s right. 


Kaya Henderson: –Donald Trump and took his anti-Semitic friend, Nick Fuentes, and to whom Donald said he didn’t know. Uh. But the thing that made me laugh and there’s all kinds of stuff going around about what happened, the dinner got really tense because Donald said something bad about Kim Kardashian and [laughter] bleh blah blah. But Kanye asked Mr. Trump if he’d like to be his running mate in 2024, [laughter] if he’d like to be his vice presidential candidate. [laughing] At which point apparently Mr. Trump got very angry and uh it spiraled downward from there. 


De’Ara Balenger: And he, Donald Trump, called him a troubled man. [laughter] Y’all, we are, this is a– 


Kaya Henderson: We’re– 


De’Ara Balenger: –real sad state of affairs.


Myles Johnson: –we’re we’re living in the last days. [laughter]


DeRay Mckesson: You know, Ka– the Kanye thing is it’s such a phenomenal example of what happens when you are looking for validation from whiteness at all costs, like despite reason, despite all the that like he, you know, so like Trump is like I met with this guy who happens to be Black, da da da and Kanye still just like had a great meal with you, you’re like, wow, you really are. I don’t know if it’s in a bubble. I don’t know if it is willful delusion. But like, you’re you just want to be accepted by white people so bad. And you know that like your whole sort of cultural cachet is being so unbelievably Black. So the moment you experience backlash, it’s like as a Black man and da da da da da, da da but I too am exhausted by the Kanye and really worried about sort of how he’s mobilizing identity to be anti-Semitic. Right. Because then there are all these people who feel like they, you know, the moment you say he’s anti-Semitic, he’s like, but I’m Black and da da da, but you’re like, mm you know, you’re actually using this as a tool to hurt people. You’re not actually in solidarity with Black people as you talk about this, and that’s actually really dangerous because for better or for worse, people do look up to you and you have a huge platform. So whether we think it makes sense or not and it doesn’t, people are being exposed to it and the exposure itself is damaging. So, you know, I’m I’m hopeful that, you know, Kanye, he [?] turn it back. It’s like, Elon, stop bringing all these people back on the platform, the banned people, keep them banned. 


Myles Johnson: Yeah, I’m no, I’m still on the taking Kanye and um Kyrie kind of seriously like train that I was last time we spoke about this um I’ve I’ve been just increasingly horrified by not necessarily the the the person not the Kanye, the Carrie– the Kyrie but like seeing the people around them so it’s like the comments, the people mobilized, the people who agree, the people who are um showing their true colors. I’m like, oh, wow, this is a this is a it almost reminds me of when I was living in Georgia and being and, you know, growing up in suburban and rural Georgia and then Atlanta and then seeing Trump happen and then me knowing in my head, I’m like, Oh, Trump is about to be elected. [laugh] But it seemed like nobody else did. It kind of feels like the same thing’s happening with um Kanye, not saying that Kanye’s going to be elected. But that I think that there I think that we I think in the same way we are, we’re looking at LGBT hate and we’re looking at these these horrible moments. I think that we are going to start seeing moments of, I almost hate saying it, but like moments of violence towards Jewish people, towards queer people in the name of Black manhood and Black male um male uh survival in hierarchy. And that kind of scares me. And I think, yeah, I think it’s like a little easy to laugh now, but I, but I’m kind of curious in the next couple of years where this is going to lead to now that I’m seeing how many people agree and are feeling empowered by this um by this speech. So this this news is disturbing because, you know, I love I love the fashion girls. I live in New York City. I spent spent money on on on some high fashion. I love um fashion as an art form. We just saw the [?] show. And I also think that fashion and specifically high fashion helps uh push culture and helps uh start conversations and helps us think in a fantastical way, helps us be provocative. I just believe I just believe in the things that high fashion um represents. However, Balenciaga, Balenciaga has gone too far, um and in their latest campaign they had children. I cannot I feel like dirty about to say this. Oh goodness. They have children carrying bags that have BDSM armor on them, have other children, and have little creatively directive papers in front of with children posing in front of them, and have created directly paper with the lawsuits of um like child molestation and and child harm lawsuits behind it. And I’m just in my head like, why? Why would we do that? Why? What is going on? And I’m actually really glad that I have so much time to think about this because in my head I’m like, you couldn’t just create something like that and think it was okay and think that it was going to sell some stuff. That’s just not where your mind could be. But then the more I had time to think about it, it was, Oh, somebody thought that they were making some type of provocative political commentary probably. And it was pushing a button, and they didn’t know that a.) People don’t wanna be pushed around child molestation and and around and around those type of topics and then also that every medi– every artistic medium and specifically commercial medium is not the place to have certain types of conversation around certain things and certain things shouldn’t be art [?]. Some things should just need to be talked about plainly. You don’t need to make uh editorials about those things in order to start a conversation or to push people to think about what we’re what we’re creating and what we’re consuming. It’s just gross and it makes no sense. And it also made me think about how little supervision or I don’t supervision or thought is being made when these things are being created. And it made me think about social media and how we’re just really creating provocative content and we’re creating things that we think are going to get engagement. And there’s just little to no like critical thought about hey, maybe it will get attention, but maybe it’s too far. Maybe it will, maybe it will um push this, whatever conversation, but maybe that’s not the right way to push it. And I truly think that when it comes to Balenciaga, like this has, like, has to be opportunity for people to say, no, this we’re not going to do the social media thing and create controversy just for the sake of it because it’s gross. This morning, of course, Kim Kardashian um da uh denounced uh the brand and said that she doesn’t like it and that she’s going to see where they go. And I don’t know why, like she’s being treated like the first lady of like morality, like what like if we’re [?] going to trust [laughing] what she thinks, where we think we should go. Where like, where? [throat cleared] If she says it’s okay. Then that means that we should feel better about it. That doesn’t quite make sense to me. But yeah, it’s still a cold or excuse me, still like a like a hot topic. So I don’t know where everything’s going to land, but I think that this in a in a generation that has made WAP, and has made so many controversial uh things, the fact that we came to a space that said this is too far was really interesting. I thought I haven’t seen a situation like this that uh that artist and fashion people have made where we said okay, this is too far in a in a really, really long time, you know, and I and I also grew up in the generation that saw Britney Spears on the cover of Rolling Stone hugging a Teletubby um and and children in childlike uh in clothes. So this this feels like an interesting moment to see, to see like what Gen-z and Millennials and our generation thinks is too is too is too far of a push, I wanted to see what y’all thought, have you all heard about this? Have you all actually–


De’Ara Balenger: Mm hmm. 


Myles Johnson: Have y’all? 


De’Ara Balenger: Oh, yeah. 


Myles Johnson: Okay. 


De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. [laughter]


DeRay Mckesson: [?] Let me show you the one photo. So I had seen some of the photos originally without context and it was like kids holding a teddy bear in a harness. And I was like, okay, that’s just bizarre, right? But I but like, I didn’t see the commentary about it. And then I saw this photo. [pause] And was like there really is no world where you’d have a kid laying on their stomach in a romper, a Balenciaga teddy bear thing, harness bag with wine, glasses layed out on the table in front of it. Like this is only telling one story about partying and a rager and it’s not telling anything that is remotely age appropriate. It’s not telling anything that, like you could even convince me, is about consent or even fun that a six year old or five year old could have. You know, like it just doesn’t make sense. And it was good to see people push back and, you know, also shout out to the Internet, because if not for social media, nobody would like I would have never naturally come across these photos because I’m never looking at Balenciaga stuff. Uh. But. But it has been interesting to see the conversation about it. And I actually wasn’t surprised by celebrities being quiet about it, if not only because I’m like, who is I don’t, if you ask me who wears Balenciaga? Literally the only people I could readily name are Kim and Kanye. I don’t know a single like–


De’Ara Balenger: No, everybody wears Balenciaga. Rihanna wears Balencia– 


Myles Johnson: Yeah. [banter indistinct]


DeRay Mckesson: Oh I don’t even. All I know is–


Myles Johnson: –huge brand. Huge. 


De’Ara Balenger:  Yeah. 


DeRay Mckesson: I just know I, like, when I think of them, I’m like, Kim wore that Balenciaga tape thing, and Kanye  like, I don’t. I can’t name anybody else. 


De’Ara Balenger: I mean. 


DeRay Mckesson: This is me not–


De’Ara Balenger: I wear a lot of Balenciaga. 


DeRay Mckesson: –being in the fashion world. [laughter]


De’Ara Balenger: I love Balenciaga. 


DeRay Mckesson: Um. So anyways so I, I just thought I’d put this out there. [laughter] I don’t know what they’re going to do to uh the apology seemed soft, so I don’t ooh I don’t know. 


Myles Johnson: Yeah. 


De’Ara Balenger: I think what’s interesting about this one, though, as opposed to all these other kind of like high fashion, like either racist or just tone deaf or just whatever moment is Balenciaga is actually suing the production company that did this shoot. Right. So Balenciaga hires a production company, I think it’s called North Six. 


Myles Johnson: Mm hmm. 


De’Ara Balenger: And then North Six hires a photographer. Right. But of course, Balenciaga is going to sign off on the photographer. So then they have this shoot. And Balenciaga is saying that, you know, that the production company and the photographer are actually at fault because they are the ones that kind of put this whole creative together. Now, I don’t know, not near one fashion brand that is going to let anybody, especially a brand or a house like Balenciaga, is going to let a production company just blindly lead creative for a big ad campaign that I’m sure they’re spending millions of dollars on. So it’s going to be interesting because again, now this is going to be a court proceeding, right? Balenciaga is suing North Six. And so all of these documents are going to be available for us to see at some point. But I think it’s going to be interesting. And I’m wondering why just strategically Balenciaga would sue them? Because obviously we’re going to there’s going to have to be depositions and requests for documents. And so we’re going to see these emails. And the truth is going to come to light, which if you just you know, I just know a little bit about about about fashion and the process. But it is it is rare for a fashion house like Balenciaga– 


Myles Johnson: What I–


De’Ara Balenger: –to not know about this creative before it was happening and there were tons of Balenciaga people on like at the shoot. 


Myles Johnson: And what I also will say about it too, is that it does seem that out of all the all the kind of like legacy fashion houses, Balenciaga has been successfully convinced that they are out of, out of, out of touch. So the creative director who came on and kind of transformed it in the same way that Gucci, um he actually just left um last week but like just how like cootchie Gucci got a facelift. It was like Balenciaga was not doing so well. And then somebody came, came in, a couple of creative directors came in and revitalized it. So it doesn’t, it doesn’t seem actually too farfetched that the people, the [?] in the room were like, well, let the kids do their thing and let them do whatever is edgy because we don’t know, we’re out of touch and let them to handle the Internet, social media stuff and they’ll do what’s cool and they’ll keep us afloat. And everything’s been going good because it’s been working like that. Until somebody with half a wit decides to make whatever type of commentary they’re trying to make around children. And now you’re in a in this type of moment, so I can kind of see that happening. But it’s still inexcusable. Of course. 


Kaya Henderson: Um I am I am trying to, like, figure out what I think. I mean, I think it’s horrible, right? The images are so wildly disturbing. Um. And uh you know for sure that the head honchos that, like this is their holiday campaign. They knew about this, right? They knew about this. There was no, I mean, as De’Ara said, like this is brand critical. And so a zillion people had to sign off on this and they thought it was fine. And 15 minutes ago, you condemned Kanye for anti-Semitic statements. And so what do you think is going to happen? Like, I don’t and I like I do think that we think it actually reminds me of the Kanye lyric in um whatever the Throne song is like uh– 


Myles Johnson: Okay, Auntie.


Kaya Henderson: Uh about. Right exactly. [laughing] It’s provacative right? Like we this this idea of things that are provocative without any boundaries is what I think um some some some of the creatives, in fact, like I’ve been to a couple of art shows where I’m like, I don’t know. I mean, I’m not a big, you know, I’m not an authority on art. And some art is provocative and some art is really just gratuitous. And I think we reward the overly provocative and I think we have put like the line has just been pushed further and further and further. And so these people thought it was okay to put, you know, child porn Supreme Court rulings with, you know, kids laying down in provocative poses with wine glasses and BDSM teddy bears like, [shriek] the whole thing is just like totally– 


Myles Johnson: Wild. 


Kaya Henderson: –Outrageous. 


Myles Johnson: Absolutely wild.


Kaya Henderson: But a group of people, not one person, a group of people were like, this is provocative. It will sell. And I think that just goes to further support the evidence that we are in the last days. My friend, wooo. [music break]


DeRay Mckesson: Don’t go anywhere, more Pod Save the People is coming. 




Kaya Henderson: My news this week is about um the country’s top law schools boycotting U.S. News and World Reports ranking system. Um. And it’s very interesting to me uh because um as many people know, U.S. News and World Report is legendary for ranking not just law schools, but lots of things. And people live or die by these rankings in fact for law schools. Um. There are 14 that called the T14, which I think stands for top 14 that pretty much stay in the top 14 with Yale as number one and Harvard as number two, and uh Stanford and Georgetown and Columbia and Berkeley and, you know, a handful of schools that are always in the top of U.S. News and World Reports rankings. And that’s largely how a lot of young people um select which law schools they’re going to go to. Um. But a number of these schools have decided to um boycott, to withdraw participation in the rankings. And when I say withdraw participation, you have to submit a whole bunch of information to uh to U.S. News and world reports um that help calculate where you are ranked. Um. But what these schools have basically said is, like, we’re concerned about equity, we’re concerned about ethics. We’re concerned about our mission. And the rankings force you to focus on test scores, grades, employment, and it creates a real incentive to push towards sort of corporate law um and sending kids to white shoe law firms. And a a disincentive the rankings actually penalize you for need based aid given scholarships to kids who need it as opposed to merit based aid. Um. The rankings um force you to uh select kids with higher LSAT scores, and many of these schools are actually pushing very hard to expand access to more than just the elites um to make um their law programs open to more people and and to create lawyers who are not just going a firm route, but who are public defenders and who are, you know, taking on social justice issues. And, in fact, you get penalized for that in the scoring system. Um. The dean of Georgetown’s law school said that um the U.S. new scoring system reflects a different set of priorities. He says Georgetown’s mission is to educate lawyers, legal scholars and citizens committed to the struggle for justice and protecting the rights of the most vulnerable among us. But the U.S. new scoring system reflects a different set of priorities. And so it’s fascinating because um the people that the one of the first the first I think the first law school who pulled out was Yale, which is number one and has been number one. And uh and then Harvard, which is number two. And then a number of these other schools that are in the top 14. And to some extent, those schools have the luxury of name recognition, tradition, endowments, credibility, you know, whatever. But all of these schools that are like in 15 to 200 are like, well, wait a minute, I’m not exactly sure I’m a pull out. Right? And and so, you know, they are many of them are worried because for some of them um, like, not everybody is going to go to the top 14 law schools. And so there are a whole bunch of other law schools who rely on those rankings so that people know about the opportunities there. And they’re like mmm, maybe we’re not going to withdraw. Um. But it it just it goes to show how the media. Right, a completely outside entity, can drive the priorities of the whole law school system in America um based on this ranking thing that, you know, is is uh made up at best, right? Like they decided, these are the priorities and here’s how we’re going to rank these law schools. And people make like million dollar decisions. The amount of money that many people borrow to go to law school is life changing. Um. And they’re making these decisions based on these rankings. And these top schools have said this is not how we want to do it. And so I think um it’s interesting. It’s going to be interesting to watch how this plays out. There are, you know, Yale and Harvard and Columbia and Stanford and Georgetown will not likely suffer too much. Um. But I do think that if other schools begin to join them, they have the power to change how we define success in legal careers, or at least in law school, um uh how we how we define success for law schools by broadening the definition from just, you know, a high powered corporate money making law to a broader swath of um legal opportunities and and indicators of access that we don’t currently prioritize right now. Um. De’Ara, I’m super interested to hear your take on this. 


DeRay Mckesson: Before De’Ara, I will say, because I am also we will save the best for last. De’ara. Because you actually went to law school. Is uh you know, it feels like for so long nobody could challenge their rankings like they were they were sort of they had all the power, they had the ability to define how people saw your university. You had to submit stuff. What’s interesting about this moment is one, you know, because standardized tests are a big part of the rankings. If you you know, all these schools are now going LSAT optional. And the LSAT’s a part of the a big part of the score. And so, you know, by going LSAT optional, it seems like in some ways you’re automatically challenging the rankings. So that’s interesting, but it is sort of cool. I am interested to see if the big schools can challenge that formula enough to just like redo the reimagine the way that we rank schools. And the reality is like the Harvards and Yales, they’ll be fine they’re going to be the top 14 are going to be fine no matter what the legacy reputation will keep them, they’ll be there. And I even read something that said that um that they’re going to be ranked anyway, that that U.S. News and World Report is going to still use publicly available information, whether they participate and send stuff in, you know, they’ll be fine. But like, can you actually redo the algorithm or like the the forming the way that helps other people and use your pressure to do it? That is interesting. And to not have the media be the sole arbiter of what good and bad is, I do think is interesting. It’s my two cents before we get the wisdom of Balenger. 


Kaya Henderson: Can I just say like I would be really interested in. I wonder about the role that student evaluations play in the rankings. Right? Like what, what what do your customers actually say about the education that they get? And I think there’s a way to empower a different set of people to define success. 


De’Ara Balenger: I’m just curious if anybody on staff at U.S. News and World Reports has been to an HBCU.

And where do homecomings and the quality of homecomings fall in into a college ranking?


DeRay Mckesson: Not what I thought she’d say everybody. [laughter] 


De’Ara Balenger: No, I think I mean what that like why that comes to mind for me is because there are three historically Black law schools, Howard, obviously. Southern and then my alma mater, Texas Southern, Thurgood Marshall School of Law. Now, there are, I think, Howard’s rank like 100, which is absolutely absurd. It’s just absurd. Right. And then Southern and Texas Southern. I mean, I think they like I think the last time I looked it up, they didn’t even have like Thurgood Marshall School of Law in there. They had like Marshall, like they don’t even know the name of the school. So I think partly it’s like I don’t even think HBCU’s in particular get a fair shot. And I think this applies to undergrad and graduate school. And I think if you’re I think the reasons why folks of color go to HBCUs, um those reason–, those reasonings, those rationales are so far from anything that U.S. News World Report would like be based upon. Um. And so I don’t know. I have I have I have lots of thoughts around this. But but but mainly I don’t think that these rankings I also don’t we can go into testing too like I don’t think any of these things are good indicators of how successful folks are going to be. I did terrible on my LSATs. I but I always had super good grades and was in every single club you can think about and chose to go to Texas Southern cause I wanted to go to a HBCU, HBCU Law School and too many kids from private schools I grew up with in D.C. went to Howard, so I wasn’t going there. So um I went to Texas Southern and I loved it. And I think, you know, graduate school, particularly when it comes to to HBCU’s, is, is a different ball game in terms of what the focus is on professionalizing students. Um. And so I don’t know these I mean, I know these rankings are important ultimately in the mainstream, but I paid no attention to them. I hope folks who are making this decision um based off of whatever their own personal and professional needs are, make those decisions with whatever um their needs are in mind. Like I just. I don’t know. I’m just I don’t I don’t think it’s it obviously it’s important, but I think for all the negative arou– all the negative reasons. But. [shuffling] I don’t I just feel I just feel like HBCU’s in particular are so far um from being truly considered. With with um with these rank– And I knew this wasn’t even about HBCU’s, but I made it about HBCU’s cause they’re important.


Kaya Henderson: No, they they mentioned they mentioned Howard. Um. They, they literally say in the article that Columbia and NYU tend to place large numbers of law school graduates into white shoe law firms, though so do institutions like the Howard University School of Law. 


De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. 


Kaya Henderson: And to me, right, that basically says the rankings are the rankings. But then there’s this whole other world outside of things where people know if they want to get top Black law talent, they go to places like Howard in addition to the the top schools. But I do think that it matter like these these rankings matter differently for different people. 


De’Ara Balenger: That’s correct. 


Kaya Henderson: And and I will say, I sit on the board of of trustees, board of directors at Georgetown and we are regularly updated on where we are–


De’Ara Balenger: In the rankings. 


Kaya Henderson: –In the top, right. And that matters to board members, that matters to alumni who are giving like they want to know that like we’re one of the top schools. And so I think that this to me, this is just another indicator of I feel like the whole higher education system in the United States is like about to topple. Right. 


De’Ara Balenger: Mm hmm. 


Kaya Henderson: We’ve seen that the amount of money that we pay for higher education is totally out of whack with, you know, the economy. And and we’ve we’re living through a student loan crisis. And, you know, all of this stuff about kids who have gotten these degrees and can’t get jobs and blah blah blah. And so there is a big question, I think, around higher education and what role it plays and how much we’re willing to pay and all of that stuff. And I think this is just another indicator. There’s another brick crumbling from this institution. 


De’Ara Balenger: I think the changes in workforce too Kaya, [cleared throat] also are going to play into this. Like I just I don’t see the next generations working at law firms. Giving those–


Kaya Henderson: Not signing up for this stuff.


De’Ara Balenger: –No, uh uh it’s it’s it’s a new it’s a new new attitude for sure. So I think that’ll be interesting to see just from some of the young people that I’m into that are going into law firms that are just expecting vacations and not to work on the weekends. And I’m just like, are y’all okay? But good for them. 


Myles Johnson: What I was really thinking, if I’m being like quite honest with you as I was like, is Yale the one where that Black student like got called the police on? Got the police called on them? Was that was that Yale? And I was I was I was going to say I’m pretty sure it was Yale. And I was like, well, there should be a totally different uh ranking system as far as like, okay, you want to go to this school and not be traumatized. Are you Black? Then like [laughing] then maybe we should be thinking about this differently because [?]–


De’Ara Balenger: Also Yale played a part in the slave trade. So I mean there that how about that? Where does that fall in to the context? 


Myles Johnson: Yeah. 


Kaya Henderson: Wait, wait, wait. Eh, probably everybody in the T14. They’re like [laughter] what Myles is saying is, we need a green book for these [?] [banter] [laughter]


Myles Johnson: Like. Like a piece of paper on your mind child. Um. [laughter]


De’Ara Balenger: My news, I just found this really cute to be honest, my news is about Chance the rapper and Vic Mensa. Now, granted, I don’t know who Vic Mensa is from [?] so I’m tripping–


Myles Johnson: Oh. Oh oh oh. 


De’Ara Balenger: There’s a– 


Kaya Henderson: Yes, Auntie. Yes.


De’Ara Balenger: I didn’t do a google so– 


Kaya Henderson: Yes. [laughing]


De’Ara Balenger: –hopefully he ain’t beat nobody up or– 


Myles Johnson: No you should do a go–


De’Ara Balenger: –involved in some some wildness? 


Myles Johnson: You should do a Google. 


De’Ara Balenger: Oh god. 


Myles Johnson: That is a fine Black man. That is a fine Black man.


De’Ara Balenger: Okay. Okay. Okay. Well, at least that. [laugh] Okay, well, at least– [laughing] 


Myles Johnson: Oh, Vic Mensa. 


De’Ara Balenger: Well, this is even more of a reason to want to fly to Ghana, y’all, for January. So–


Kaya Henderson: Can I just say Vic Mensa was born in 1993. Did you know I was grown in 1993? Okay, sorry. Go ahead. [laughter]


Myles Johnson: I was not. 


Kaya Henderson: Like graduated from college and all working, teaching, doing all the things. Lord, today I feel like I can’t even look at him to see if he’s cute or not. He could be my child. Okay, go ahead. Sorry, Ghana. Come on, let’s talk about it sis. 


De’Ara Balenger: Um. So Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa, who now we know is is an attractive person, they are doing this. I want to call it a revival, not a festival, a Black Star Line revival in Ghana. So they are putting together this music festival in Ghana. It’s January sixth, it has a lot of amazing acts that we would like as aunties Kaya, like Erykah Badu, for example, but it’s an incredible lineup and also Manifest who I went to college with, who is now like a big time rapper in Ghana. But it is it’s so these two were together in Chicago and just kind of like vibing and and being creative together and started talking about Marcus Garvey and his movement to get Black folks back to Africa. And so, as we know, Marcus Garvey had a ship called the Black Star that he was raising money, trying to finance to to get this ship to to move peoples, Black peoples back to Africa. Marcus Garvey, still to this day, meanwhile, is like still like like a criminal in the eyes of the United States government. I think his son is doing a whole bunch of legal interventions to basically get Marcus Garvey exonerated because J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI did all the things that they could to make sure that Marcus Garvey was seen as basically a terrorist. But–


Kaya Henderson: Including sabotaging a cruise line. 


De’Ara Balenger: The cruise line, yeah. And so but I just thought. I just thought it was wonderful, right? So it’s like they wanted to kind of, you know, pay, you know, their respects in homage to to Marcus Garvey and that liberation movement. They also, you know, W.E. B. Du Bois was was buried in Ghana, in Accra. And so that kind of, you know, that was another reason they wanted to do this and just understanding that Kwame Nkrumah was the one who expelled the British out of Ghana. And there’s just so much history and so much connectivity between Black Americans and Ghana besides the fact that we are descendants of the place. And I just thought this was a beautiful thing to do. And the other thing that I thought was so compelling about this is they realized as big of rap stars as they both were, they’d never performed in West Africa. So that just gets me to thinking too just like the scheming around concert promotions and where people think people will buy tickets and where there are connections is obviously lacking. So I thought, this was just really cool that they’re going to come together, do this in Ghana. I might try to go, if they I just got to figure out if they have some chairs so I can sit down. [laughter]


Kaya Henderson: Girl, there’s always a VIP. I was in Ghana in September when they did the other concerts, and I was I was like, Oh, I can’t go to that because it’s a free for all. But my girl was like, Oh no, there’s a VIP section. So if you want to go, there’s seats, there’s a VIP seat. 


Myles Johnson: I need that on a t shirt. Girl, there’s always a VIP. [laughter] 


DeRay Mckesson: Not Kaya. [laughter] I will say so Chance and Vic are both just good people too, which is really cool. 


De’Ara Balenger: Oh nice. Yes.


DeRay Mckesson: Who both love Black people like want to do right by Black people, both of these guys, they grew up as friends together. They’re part of the like Chicago artists who like all came up together in their own way. It’s dope to see them do this. They both give back to Chicago heavy and it’s cool they’re doing this. I went to Accra a couple of years ago. I have a lot of friends going back this year. I don’t think I’m going to make it back this year, but loved it. Super Black I think we all the um I think we all should see that part of the history, especially of uh the slave trade, it really blew my mind and I’ll never forget it. But it’s cool to see. Especially young Black men do something like this is really cool, especially because they do, here the critique is often, why are you going to another country? And we got all these problems here and they are two people who can legitimately say, we love our city. We do a lot in our city. We give back in our city, our roots are in our city. And we are also doing this too. And there’s a Garvey movie coming. Did you know that? There’s a Marcus Garvey movie and Garvey still holds the record as organizer, as being sort of the best Black organizer in American history. Like the number of Black people who joined his organization far surpasses almost anything we’ve ever seen, um which is why he was targeted so heavy by the FBI. 


Myles Johnson: I’m I’m always a little bit like skeptical sometimes when somebody like research’s somebody like Marcus Garvey and what he was doing and like two Black men get together and the thing they come up with was like let’s sell something to people like that oh, that seems a little off, uh off, the off the a off off the brand of Marcus Garvey. So that’s like, interesting that they were [indistinct]–


De’Ara Balenger: I mean I don’t know Myles because Marcus Garvey seemed to be a hustler mofo like he everything involved–


Myles Johnson: Yeah– 


De’Ara Balenger: –wasn’t it bonds like he had to sell the bonds and the something with the bonds that then got you– 


Kaya Henderson: But the concert, the–


De’Ara Balenger: –Equity in the thing.


Kaya Henderson: The concert is free the concert is free. They are bringing this to the people for free. 


Myles Johnson: So so they’re– 


Kaya Henderson: No big– 


Myles Johnson: –flying Black. So oh it’s just for the people in Ghana? 


Kaya Henderson: Free for the people in Ghana, yes. 


Myles Johnson: Got it. 


Kaya Henderson: They are they are they don’t have big sponsors. It seems like they’re self-financing this. Um. So just a clarifying point. 


Myles Johnson: Okay. Yeah, I, I, yeah. [laughter] I I I I’m always going to just be, listen, it’s just I’m, I’m the, the, the, the upper middle class to the elite Black people’s ideas of what to do and moments when they– 


De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. It’s true. 


Myles Johnson: –consume literature have always given me pause or or different um uh idols that we have always gives me pause. And I’m like, maybe not a concert, like maybe something a little bit more, whatever. And then also the other thing that always gives me pause, not saying, not being a hater just. I love them and I especially love Vic Mensa. Um. [laughing] If you wanna give me a call and talk any of this, if you want to talk any of this out personally with me. [laughter] I’m available. But the other thing too, is um what always gives me pause about this, too, is the idea, I don’t know, like what precautions are being taken as somebody who’s visibly queer, who is visibly trans, who has friends who are visibly trans, obviously queer. And I always um I would think about that when things are happening on the mother, uh on the motherland and the fact that the that the the fact is a lot of um neighboring countries in in in in in places in Africa and the Caribbean, are just not safe for visibly trans and um and queer people. And that, are there any precautions or thoughts being happening around that, or is it just come at your own risk or this is just not for that, you know, slice of uh Black folks. 


De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. 


Myles Johnson: You know. 


De’Ara Balenger: Yeah, Miles, I think that is absolutely I mean, I think that’s what that is what is missing. Like–


Myles Johnson: Yeah. 


De’Ara Balenger: –Visibly– 


Myles Johnson: Yeah. 


De’Ara Balenger: –From this or in terms of just like how it’s being messaged. But I think that’s an important piece of it. And I think a piece that like I guess the question is, how how do we get that to become part of entertainment culture, I mean, across all cultures. But I think in particular like when I see. Like, I think musicians, it’s great to know what they’re thinking and I’m glad that, you know, they like to be educated and that they are doing stuff for the culture sometimes. But I, I think after this Kanye thing, I just want them to make music for now, like. The best thing Kanye can do right now is just go in the studio. And–


Myles Johnson: Well, how are we– 


De’Ara Balenger: –maybe not use, maybe not use words, but use just instrumentals.


Myles Johnson: How how did we get on Kanye? How’d we get on Kanye? I’m not [indistinct]– 


De’Ara Balenger: Because, because– [laughter]


De’Ara Balenger: Because I feel, because I feel like–


Kaya Henderson: Can I? Can I take us back to Chance? Can I take us back to Chance.


De’Ara Balenger: Well. No [laughter] let’s take it, but I think I’m going to I’m going to pivot us back, because I think partly it’s like I think just as the argument around maybe a concert isn’t the best thing. I think the concert is a great thing. 


Myles Johnson: Got it. 


De’Ara Balenger: I think I remember concerts like even you know, may his memory, [laugh] perspective on him. R.I.P. Michael Jackson. But like the way Michael Jackson was able to bring a crowd together, the way that um the song We Are the World, when they would do that live, like how that would bring people together in unity. So I think there is something beautiful and unifying about music. Right. I think that is true– 


Myles Johnson: Absolutely. 


De’Ara Balenger: –but I think to your point it is, how do we how do we have guidelines around guidelines, for lack of a better word, for safety? Right. Keeping people safe in a in a space. And I think it’s for any space. I think it’s any festival, whether it’s Sundance, etc.. It’s like, how do we you know, how how can we create expectation and acknowledgment around safety for for every for everyone. 


Myles Johnson: Yeah. 


De’Ara Balenger: In particular people who are going to be most vulnerable. 


Myles Johnson: Yeah. And and I think to that point, I think there’s really a simple answer to that very like complex question, which is probably just having the people who are of that experience baked into what you’re thinking– 


De’Ara Balenger: –and doing, that’s right. 


Myles Johnson: –About, I think. So if you if you have two cis heterosexual um men talking to each other about what they think is cool or what they think will be interesting, they’re just not going to think of certain things unless they’re really dedicated to thinking critically and expansively. And one way to uh remedy that is just to have people of that experience on your team. 


Kaya Henderson: Um. I was inspired by this for a number of reasons. So first of all, you know, I went to Ghana in, for the first time, in September, it was a transformative trip for me as well. And I think, like what Gh– one of the things that Ghana does is it really steeps you in this history of Black independence. And when you learn about what Kwame Nkrumah was trying to do, like his thing was it’s not enough for Ghana to be free until all of Africa is free, until all Black people are free. And this sort of global Black, this idea of global Blackness, like Chance says, you know, he hopes that he can then do this in Haiti and in Jamaica and in other places in Africa, across the diaspora. That starts a conversation like as Black Americans, many of us don’t have any connection to the diaspora. 


De’Ara Balenger: Mm mm. 


Kaya Henderson: Or don’t think about ourselves as global Black citizens. And so I think he’s surfacing a level of interconnectedness that um a lot of Black Americans don’t usually think about. Um. I think he’s using his platform for good. Like one of the issues is there are limited flights to Ghana and Chance was like, yo United, can we have a conversation about this? And United has has is offering a year of discounted fares to Ghana because this young man decided to use his power to try to, you know, deal with the transportation issue. Um. I think it’s you know, there are a lot of people who who don’t know the history of Marcus Garvey, a lot of young people. And because they follow Chance and because this thing is called the Black Star Line, you know, festival and whatnot, they will now go into this part of history. And, you know, this is my thing, right? Like, I think that these are the stories that aren’t told. You’re not taught in school. And people need Black people need to know about Garvey and need to know what he did and need to know what the U.S. government interference was and need to know what his and and, I mean, when you look at the fact Nkrumah was is the liberator of Africa the way we think of Simon Bolivar as the liberator of South America or what have you, and and Nkrumah was deeply, deeply influenced. He came to the U.S. to go to school, deeply influenced by two U.S. thinkers, by Marcus Garvey and by W.E.B. Du Bois. Like, this is our history and and our young people don’t know this history. So for me, shout out to Chance and Vic Mensa for opening, reopening this chapter, exposing people to the idea of global Blackness and um and throwing a free concert in Ghana. You know, I’m I’m hire Myles as your consultant I will say I why can’t I think of what the Global Citizen Festival was the festival that they did in September also free, and Myles from the pictures that I saw, the kids were out. Um. The kids were out and styling and doing their thing. But I still think they should hire you as a consultant to make sure that everybody is safe. 


Myles Johnson: Yeah. 


DeRay Mckesson: I would say I did meet with Ghanaian queer activists when I was in Ghana and they repeatedly highlighted how unsafe it was. That was like the–


De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. 


DeRay Mckesson: –overriding conv– they reached out to me on Twitter. They were like, you’re here, can we meet? We met in the hotel and they were just like, It is not safe. We have created like pockets where we can get together and we can be in community with each other, but but like the need to appear hypermasculine and not be visibly intimate in any way in public and be like, you know, and I say that as someone who who actually met with activists in Ghana who are queer activists, um they did remind me it was unsafe. So I’m interested to see how this plays out. My news [sound cuts out] is um is about the U.K. There are I feel like I say this every week, but there are a few things that shocked me. And then I read something and I’m like, Well, goodness, okay, this was wild. So in the U.K. uh in 2008, they started a studio called Boombox. And long story short is that this was a studio that was run by the police. It was an undercover sting Operation Music Studio with the goal of, quote, “stopping violence” in that particular neighborhood where a set of Black men had been killed in Edmonton, North London. And you know that what happened was that over a period of months, they the police essentially entrapped these young men, uh seduced them into engaging in illegal acts. So like, you know, one of the one of the stories, the police were like, hey, one of the undercover officers was like, hey, I need heroin. Can you get me heroin? The guy goes and gets heroin, then gets arrested for being the middleman in in the scenario. And the undercover officers were older Black guys, um the men who were entrapped were in between 16 and 41 and they were convicted of offenses ranging from drug dealing, trafficking guns, and conspiracy to supply firearms. Um. And it cost half a million pounds uh to to do this. It was called Operation Peyzac. And, you know, there are a lot of sort of interesting details and I’m sure other people talk about but the thing that I was just struck by is, you know, if people are participating in an illegal economy, if people are sort of doing things that you don’t think make sense around these issues, it normally is crimes of poverty, things like that. And instead of pouring supports into this neighborhood, instead of setting young Black men up with resources to make different options, instead of like giving people really targeted opportunities and making it impossible for them to not choose cool opportunities for their families. You spend all this money to get older Black people to entrap younger Black people in the criminal enterprise with the end result not even being like, Oh my God, we’re going to entrap you and then force you to [?], just jail! Like it’s like you. You entrap them, sends them to prison. And then. And then what? Right. Like. Well, I mean, how did you make their lives better? Did you make the community safer in the long run? You know, they they sort of said that these guys were in gangs. The guys are like, were we in gangs? You know. But to use a music studio where people are trying to be rappers, knowing that, you know, a lot of the raps are embellished and da da, but using older Olack men to to like gain the trust of younger brack Black men as uh as undercover officers is truly nasty work. I mean, that is I read this and I was like, that is nasty work and what an incredible waste of money and a payoff that actually doesn’t make communities safer in the end anyway, but does do a lot of damage about how we think about trust and community and how we think about camaraderie and brotherhood and family. I just read this and was just sad. 


Myles Johnson: Yeah, I’m definitely with you. That’s the first thing my mind went is just what is the aftermath of this like massive uh betrayal that happened and that that was orchestrated in the community? And what happens um afterwards and then what are the ripple effects of there being such betrayal? And does just uh yeah, that’s exactly where like my mind went. 


Kaya Henderson: I thought it was so ironic um that the young man that they profiled in this article was, you know, a recent immigrant, clearly living in a poor neighborhood. And he was like, this could be my big break. Like, I want to get into music. Studio time is too expensive and this place has given us studio time for £10. And let me be friends with these people and see if I can break through because like I need an economic way. And he basically was doing his best to stay out of trouble. And to by going into music and trying to make his way and these people literally, like, made him do something illegal that he would not otherwise have done and ended up in jail for three years. And so, you know, it is I mean, ironic is an understatement. It is entrapment. Um. There’s no data that shows that this was effective um or that this was a good use of money. And um and yeah, it just all the things this was this was gross. 


De’Ara Balenger: It just it’s just also wild. Like how much time goes into creating [laughing] this whole scheme like what and like I think to DeRay’s point too just around like if the goal is making the neighborhood safer. This is what you’re putting time and energy and resources into? That that just doesn’t make that much sense to me. Um. [dog whimpering in background] Yeah, it it it it’s it’s something else. I mean, I think I, when I was, my internship. I had an internship, a law internship in London, um and it was pretty wild. The solicitor that I worked for is actually disbarred now, um and it worked out for me because he was so incompetent that I would actually go in court and represent people like in a British court, which was actually absurd, but it got me lots of practice. 


Kaya Henderson: Did you have any um experience or–


De’Ara Balenger: Zero. Oh, zero. 


Kaya Henderson: –qualifications? 


De’Ara Balenger: I was. [laughter] No, I was. And I was. I mean, besides, like growing up in my dad’s criminal law practice my entire life, like, you know, I knew the basics cause I was in college. Um.


Kaya Henderson: But not of the British legal system. 


De’Ara Balenger: No, not of the civil– 


Kaya Henderson: Okay okay. I mean I’m just checking.


De’Ara Balenger: –system, I mean, not of the common law. No, no, no, not at all. Um. But I had I guess I did better than he would have done now that he is disbarred. But it gave me interesting insight, not just in you know. [sigh] I don’t know. And of course, a lot of our clients were in Brixton, this office, law office was in Brixton. And I just felt like folks were so unprotected and unseen and in their legal system. I think the difference being. I mean, I think this this article proves me wrong. But I feel like in the American legal system, Black people are preyed upon. And I feel like in the U.K., they’re just invisible. Um. Except in this case where they’re obviously preyed upon, but that this was my experience working the courts and going to jails there. But this is it’s honestly something DeRay, I’m glad you’ve been bringing these articles from from the U.K. and because I think we should be talking more about a global perspective and what’s happening to Black folks. Um. Because maybe, maybe, you know, there is opportunity for unity and opportunity for cross collaboration, because clearly these things aren’t happening in a vacuum. 


DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Don’t go anywhere. There’s more to come. 




DeRay Mckesson, narrating: This week, we welcome author and researcher Wendy Sawyer on the pod to talk about the Prison Policy Initiative and her most recent report titled All Profit No Risk, How the Bail Industry Exploits the Justice System. There are all these things about the way the justice system works that most of us don’t have visibility into. And I know a lot. But, you know, even the bail bondsman it was like, I just didn’t really understand how it worked until I talked to Wendy and what’s wrong with it. So here we go. Hope that you learn, too, and let’s go. 


DeRay Mckesson: Wendy, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People. 


Wendy Sawyer: Thanks, DeRay. So happy to be here. 


DeRay Mckesson: So I’ve been a fan of you and PPI for a long time, uh and it is an honor to finally get you on the Pod. But let’s– 


Wendy Sawyer: Yeah. 


DeRay Mckesson: –Start with your story. How did you get to do this work? What’s the organization that you helped lead? Like, you know what is what’s the work you do and how’d you get here? 


Wendy Sawyer: Sure. So I’m the research director at the Prison Policy Initiative, um which is uh basically a research organization um that works on issues related to mass incarceration. We also do some advocacy around specific issues, um but really our role is to um put the information that people in the movement need to have more success on the ground in their fights um to end mass incarceration. 


DeRay Mckesson: And how did you get into this work? Did you, like, wake up one day and you’re like, you know what, I’m going to like research jails and prisons? Or did you like were you are a protestor and then you, like, came into re– like how did or were you I don’t know. Were you researching something else and then stumbled– 


Myles Johnson: Yeah. 


DeRay Mckesson: –into mass incarceration. 


Wendy Sawyer: I you know, I am just a research nerd. This is fully developed out of you know research and college sort of sparked an interest that I just pursued from there. And then I found myself working in the Civilian Complaint Review Board in New York City. That was um one of my first jobs sort of in the field, which was really uh illuminating. Uh. And and I realized that I thought that there was more potential to make a change in sort of the research and advocacy role that I have then sort of within the system kind of change. 


DeRay Mckesson: Boom. Well, let’s talk about, so everybody, I’m a huge fan of Prison Policy Initiative, big fan. And they have a new report out that Wendy helped to make happen uh called All Profit No Risk, How the Bail Industry Exploits the Legal System. So Wendy, walk us through help us understand, like what made you guys what made you all even do this? And then, you know, one of the things that I wanted to talk to you about is that I feel like people hear a lot about bail, but we never sort of like talk through like what is bail? Why might it not be great? What are bail bondsman? Is it predatory? Is it not? Like, you know, I’m interested in learning from you, too, so–


Wendy Sawyer: Sure. 


DeRay Mckesson: Lead us. 


Wendy Sawyer: Uh. Sorry what was the first half of your question again? 


DeRay Mckesson: Yeah. So let’s start with uh what made you all do this report? 


Wendy Sawyer: Oh what, oh yeah yeah. Um. Yeah. We started doing this report on a tip from some folks at the bail project, actually, um who had sort of observed that this is a thing that that the bail bond industry is not paying forfeitures, that they don’t that they’re not sort of being held accountable in the way that other folks who pay bail bonds are um when people miss court dates. Um. So we sort of went digging just to see, you know, could we see if that was a wide spread problem, you know, what what information existed about that already. Um. And it was really hard. There’s not a lot of already collected data about this. I mean, really, it’s something that was this is a product where the the plural of anecdote is data. So we just had to sort of scour the Internet and dig and dig and dig. And we did find that actually this is a huge, widespread problem. This is not just, you know, in any one, you know, just an issue in one city or one county. But it was something that people over the years have been flagging, but no one had really put it together that this is like a systemic problem. 


DeRay Mckesson: And let’s zoom out and can we talk about what is bail? And what do you bail bondsman do? And does everybody have bail bondsman, like can you have bail without bail bondsman? 


Wendy Sawyer: Yeah. Okay. So bail is uh sort of the conditions of your release pretrial. So if you get arrested and booked into jail, um they, the court or somebody, a magistrate, somebody is going to determine sort of what you have to do to go home while you’re awaiting trial. Um. More often than not, that’s going to be financial conditions, um and that’s largely because of the influence of the bail industry. Um. So typically they’re going to set a bail amount uh and then you have to pay that to go free. Or if you’re like most people and too poor to afford the bail that’s set, you’re going to sit in jail until you either plead guilty just to go home or you find somebody who can put up the money for you, which is going to be a commercial bail bond agent most of the time. 


DeRay Mckesson: Okay. And this report is about commercial bail bonds agents. 


Wendy Sawyer: That’s right. 


DeRay Mckesson: Okay. Can you talk us through, like what they so like, say, I can’t afford bail. And I’m like, I need to go. I go to a commercial bail bondsman. And I say, like, what happens then? 


Wendy Sawyer: They’re going to say, Hmm, well, let me just look at you and your family and decide if I think you all can cover me, in case you miss court, I’m going to, what we think is going to happen, is that they’re going to make sure you go to court. Right. And if you don’t, they’re supposed to pay the court your full bond amount on your behalf. Um. But they’re going to first decide, are you a good candidate for bail? They’re going to decide if you’re a good risk. And that’s going to be based solely on your financial situation. They’re going to ask you to give them a fee called a premium, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 10%. And that’s something you will never see again. That’s just money right off the top. It’s gone forever. Um. They’re also going to ask you or your cosigners to put up some collateral. So it could be like the deed or the title to your car or something like that. So something else to back up. Um. The promise–


DeRay Mckesson: In addition to the–


Wendy Sawyer: –to appear. 


DeRay Mckesson: –Premium? 


Wendy Sawyer: In addition to the fee. Yes. 


DeRay Mckesson: Okay. That’s wild.


Wendy Sawyer: So they’re covering all their bases. So there’s no way they’re going to lose money on this bet. Um. And then they will sort of post a bond, which is just a piece of paper. It is not actual cash, but sort of a promissory note. They’re going to post that with the court and say, all right, I’m responsible for this person showing up in court and you’re going to go home. So, so far, so good. Except now you have paid this fee that you’ll never see again whether or not you’re convicted. Um. You may be on some kind of payment plan if you couldn’t afford the whole premium. So you’re going to have them sort of knocking on your door, asking for money all the time, um and then potentially you could lose property that you put up as collateral. Um. So all these things are going on as your as part of your contract with them. 


DeRay Mckesson: And what were you looking into in the report? 


Wendy Sawyer: I was looking into the question of do they actually [laughing] what they like to say is that they provide a public service at no cost to the taxpayer. This is their their favorite line to justify their existence and their really central role in the pretrial process. And our question was really, is that true? Like, to what extent are they actually providing a public service? And to what extent are they not costing taxpayers? Are they really being held accountable? Are they doing anything that makes sure people show up in court? Are they doing anything to earn all of this money that they’re extracting from people? That was the question we’re trying to answer. 


DeRay Mckesson: And what did you find? 


Wendy Sawyer: Uh. Generally speaking, they are not held accountable. Um. They just sort of collect their money and go on their way. Seems like the most effort that that they put into this whole process is just trying to make sure they get paid. Um. And then, you know what if you don’t show up in court, generally speaking, like nothing really bad happens to them. You know, if if I paid my own cash bail, if I just paid out of my own pocket, um I would lose all of that bail money. Right. It would be forfeited to the court. Um. But if they post a bond and I don’t show up to court, they don’t actually end up ever paying the court. Very rarely. 


DeRay Mckesson: They how how how has that happened? 


Wendy Sawyer: [laughing] Uh. Well, that’s a great question. It it turns out that they have spent the bail industry that is has spent decades lobbying for a sort of a large array of rules um that benefit them and let them kind of wiggle out of having to pay. Um. So we call these sort of loopholes in our report. These are things that they’ve lobbied for that give them an advantage that regular defendants don’t have when they post their bond. 


DeRay Mckesson: Now, what would you say to people who were like, well, you know there shouldn’t be steep penalties when people don’t show up to court, for anybody, right? So–


Wendy Sawyer: When they said they should be, is that what you said? 


DeRay Mckesson: Now, what do you say to people who say there shouldn’t be a steep penalty that like there shouldn’t be a financial penalty if you don’t show up to court, there should be like we should get you to come to court, but there should be a financial penalty. So why are we upset that there’s no financial penalty for the bail bondsman? 


Wendy Sawyer: Well, yeah, obviously, I don’t think there should be a penalty for not showing up in court, financial one that is, especially when we’re talking about people who are overwhelmingly poor. Right um and can’t afford fees on top of fees. Um. You know, when you miss a doctor’s appointment. They don’t charge you for not showing up at the doctor’s. Right. So I don’t know why this would be any different. But the reason to be upset that they’re not paying is that they’re profiting huge amounts of money that they’re extracting from defendants and their families and their communities. And they’re not doing anything for that money. But they get this really privileged position in the bail system where they get to write all these bonds. They’re making money hand over fist. Everyone else is going broke and they’re just not doing anything for this system. So so why are we sort of subsidizing this whole industry that causes a lot of harm? 


DeRay Mckesson: Is it is it is there any place so first of all, the map that you have in this, I don’t know why I thought that bail bondsman were sort of like a rare thing. And then I saw the map and I was like, no apparently not. [laughing] Um. Is there any place that you saw that does have good oversight? 


Wendy Sawyer: Hmm. I would say no. I don’t think I found any evidence of, like, really great oversight of the commercial bail industry. There are some states that are doing it marginally better. Um. One example that comes to mind is Colorado, where um they sort of have, they have a system where they they put bail bondsman “on the board”, quote unquote. And the board is sort of this um list of people who are in default for not paying forfeitures or for other violations. So they’re not allowed to write bonds anymore. And this is a place where everyone can see, okay, I shouldn’t be accepting bonds from these folks. Um. In other places, what’s far more common is that people break these rules. They’re in default. They don’t pay their their forfeited bond amounts. And they just still keep on writing bonds. They keep on collecting money. 


DeRay Mckesson: And do we have a sense of I don’t know why I didn’t realize that there’s a premium and you put up collateral? I mean, that feels sort of wild.


Wendy Sawyer: It’s a lot. Mm hmm. 


DeRay Mckesson: Do they just auction off people like, how does the collateral piece work? I guess I’m just like, I literally I did not know that was a thing. So I’m wondering? 


Wendy Sawyer: Right. If, so if you um let’s say they are somehow made to pay the bail forfeiture. Right. So the court’s saying, all right, your client didn’t show up to court. Um. You now are on the hook for this money. So they’ve got this collateral that they can then liquidate so they can sell it and then pay themselves back essentially with that. Um. So yeah, they essentially just take your stuff. 


DeRay Mckesson: That is wild. One of the things also that you put in here, you said one of the things uh in here that I was like, I want to talk to Wendy about this is that you write that bail bond agents can piggyback off of public pretrial service agencies. What does that mean? 


Wendy Sawyer: Yeah. So pretrial pretrial service agencies are things that a lot of folks have set up to try and provide sort of more support at the pretrial uh end of things. So you may have a defendant, for example, who is unemployed, who needs to be connected with housing, who needs to be connected with a job, who needs maybe court reminders. So someone to to tell them, oh, you’ve you’ve got a court date on Tuesday, you know, they they need additional support. Um. So one of the conditions that courts can set at that bail setting is they can say, all right, we’re going to make sure that you work with pretrial services during this period while while your trial is pending and they’re going to sort of like keep you on track, let’s say, while you’re in that pretrial phase. Um. So these are publicly funded. Um. They are sort of like they vary in the amount uh that they’re voluntary, I would say, uh and in terms of sort of like what they require of people. But on the whole, it’s it’s a good service uh when the option is basically financial ruin um and what happens is that that in a well in Colorado, specifically, I write about that they did a study and they found that in most counties where there was a pretrial services agency, people were being set, having financial bond set. So they had to pay money bail and they had to do pretrial services, which meant that pretrial services was doing all of the supervision and all of the support work that the bond agents should be doing. So the bond agent basically collects this fee and then disappears. Pretrial services does all the work. And then the person shows up in court and that’s it. The the bail agent didn’t have to do anything, but they got to collect their money. Meanwhile, the taxpayer did have to pay for pretrial services to do that work. So, yes I– [laughing]


DeRay Mckesson: The taxpayer has to pay for pretrial services? 


Wendy Sawyer: Yes, pretrial services– 


DeRay Mckesson: What? 


Wendy Sawyer: –Are publicly funded. So that’s something that we’re paying for. But the bail agents are profiting from so that that kind of doubling up system is really unfair um and really sort of gets at that line of like at no expense to the taxpayer because it does cost us money to supervise people. 


DeRay Mckesson: Okay. So here’s a, this is a real push to understand um is so if we think about bail bondsman as exploiting people, I could see some people in Baltimore, people are like, well, it’s the only way I can get out of jail. Right. That’s I’ve heard a lot of people in Baltimore when we talk about like the bail bondsman being bad. They’re like, well, if I didn’t have the bail bondsman, that I’d be sitting in jail. What? Like what do you say to that? I’m, like, legitimately curious. We at Campaign Zero, we don’t have a campaign on bail, so I am. I’m a learner on this call. 


Wendy Sawyer: Yeah. Um. I mean, unfortunately, that is the position people find themselves in. That is, I think, a total failure, a total policy failure that we have to rely on these predatory lenders to secure freedom for people who really aren’t posing much of a risk at all, um if any risk at all. And uh there are just so many other ways that judges can sort of set conditions to make sure people show up in court. They have a lot of options. They can be setting unsecured bonds, for example, which is when, okay, if you don’t show up in court, you got to pay the bail money, but you don’t have to put it up upfront. Right. You can go today and if you don’t show up, then we’re going to ask you to– 


DeRay Mckesson: That’s a thing?


Wendy Sawyer: –cough it up later. That’s a thing on certain–


DeRay Mckesson: Where? 


Wendy Sawyer: –bonds are a thing. [rolls lips] I’m not sure exactly but– [laughing]


DeRay Mckesson: [indistinct]. I’ve never heard of that. 


Wendy Sawyer: Yeah, unsecured bonds are a thing and there have been studies that show that they have the same kind of court appearance rates as commercial bail bonds. So that’s another thing that the bail bondsman likes to brag about, is that they they’re better at getting people to show up in court, which is not true. Um. They can also do pretrial services. They can do partially secured bonds, which is where you put up like um sort of a deposit. So you could pay like 10% of the amount to the court directly. And then if you don’t show up to court, then you owe the rest of it. So that’s something that makes a lot of sense. Illinois did that for a really long time. Um or Chicago, I guess I’m thinking of specifically. Um. They recently eliminated all forms of money bail, but for a long time they did that sort of deposit bond system, uh which if you’re going to pay your 10%, why not pay it to the court instead of to this private business. 


DeRay Mckesson: So what’s what’s next in terms of the the contours of the the research world in Bond and bail that we need to be asking questions about? Like, I have to imagine that you probably learned more stuff in this that you’re like, oh, my goodness, we can’t include it in this, but these are issues. What does that look like? 


Wendy Sawyer: I mean, what’s next is right now essentially there are hundreds of different experiments going on around the country in different ways to make our our criminal justice system and specifically our pretrial systems more fair um and to take that profit motive out of the out of pretrial release decisions. I think that we’re just going to be sort of looking to see what happens in those places. And so far, the evidence is really promising in places that have done some form of bail reform. We’ve we’ve looked at those jurisdictions and we’ve said, oh, look, the sky didn’t fall, like crime rates didn’t go soaring. You know, like actually things stayed pretty much the same and in many ways got better, right? People went home, kept their jobs. Their families didn’t go through that trauma of having somebody go to jail. So there are, there are there are sort of lots of different things that we’re watching right now just to see what’s going on and to see what works best. And I think that’s sort of the direction this is headed is, figuring out how we can do this in a way that um is safe and fair and equitable. And take sort of the profit motive out of all this. 


DeRay Mckesson: Well, I learned a lot. Thank you for coming to let us know about the latest research on the bail bondsman. We got to have you back because you all do such incredible work. But there are two questions that we ask everybody before they go. The first is, what’s a piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years that stuck with you? 


Wendy Sawyer: Hmm. [laughing] Um. Advice that stuck with me. This is going to sound terrible but my dad told me never refuse money. And uh [laughter] I can’t say that I never refused money, but it stuck with me. [laughter] I’m sorry. It’s terrible. 


DeRay Mckesson: No I like it. Uh. The the second one is what do you say to all the people who feel like they’ve done all the things right, they protested, they emailed, they testified, they ran for office, they read your study, they joined our work. Da da da. And the world hasn’t changed in the way they wanted it to, what do you say to those people? 


Wendy Sawyer: I mean, you just got to keep going. What’s the alternative? Um. You know, the alternative is despair. I think you just got to keep going. And that’s where you draw sort of strength and inspiration. 


DeRay Mckesson: Boom. Let everybody know how they can stay in touch with you and your work. 


Wendy Sawyer: Sure. We’re at prisonpolicy.org. Um. That’s probably the best place to find our work. And you can contact us through our contact forms there. 


DeRay Mckesson: Uh, Twitter too? Instagram? 


Wendy Sawyer: So we are @prisonpolicy on Twitter and on Instagram. 


DeRay Mckesson: Cool. Well, we consider you a friend of the pod who can’t wait to have you back. 


Wendy Sawyer: All right. Thank you. 


DeRay Mckesson: See you later. 


Wendy Sawyer: Okay. Take care. [music break]


DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out. Make sure to rate it wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else. And we will see you next week. Pod Save the People was a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by AJ Moultrié and mixed by Charlotte Landes. Executive produced by me and special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Myles Johnson.