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'Say Their Name' Podcast Memorializes Black Men Killed By Police

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks - people have been chanting those names for months now at Black Lives Matter protests.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS #1: (Chanting) George Floyd.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS #2: (Chanting) Say his name.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS #1: (Chanting) George Floyd.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS #2: (Chanting) Say his name.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But a new podcast called Say Their Names (ph) memorializes seven Black men whose names you probably haven't heard.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "SAY THEIR NAME")

TIFFANY ROBERSON: The police approached Jamar within 61 seconds, I believe, after, like, stepping out of their car and having an interaction with Jamar. He was killed. They walked up to him, put him in this, like, chokehold, slammed him on the ground and shot him in the face.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Tiffany Roberson talking about her brother Jamar Clark. He was Black and unarmed and killed in Minneapolis in 2015. Chris Colbert is the executive producer of the Say Their Names podcast. And he joins us now to talk about it from his home in New York. Good morning.

CHRIS COLBERT: Hi. Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It is a pleasure to have you. I'm going to start by asking you to say their names.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS #1: Yes. Archie "Artie" Eliott III, Jamar Burns-Hill, also known as Jamar Clark, Robbie Tolan, Danny Ray Thomas, John Crawford III, Kaldrick Donald and Duane "Wane" Strong Jr.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How did this project come about?

COLBERT: Back in 2018, we started conceptualizing this idea, myself and our host, Adell Coleman - we were just continuing to see these incidences of, you know, unarmed Black people being killed by police and in "stand your ground" states. You know, these people weren't being memorialized. We weren't talking about them as humans, as individuals, people who had career aspirations, who had a sense of humor, who, you know, had this family dynamic. And we were really just talking about them as these hashtags and these moments. And so I thought it was important to memorialize who they were and touch on not only these family members and what they have gone through, but also, what is that continued battle for justice?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. You traveled around the country to collect their stories. Can you talk about that experience?

COLBERT: We decided that we'd just take a road trip and so, for three weeks, drove around the country, went over 4.5 thousand miles. My mother, who was also an associate producer on this project - she joined me on this journey as we went into these people's communities, into their homes all around the country. It really was a harrowing experience, especially doing that with my mother, somebody who could, you know, really give a perspective of, what would a mother be feeling in this kind of situation? You know, meanwhile, I'm talking to them as a Black man and understanding my angst.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, we should add that the police have their own versions of what happened in each case. You know, witnesses, for example, in the shooting of Jamar Clark in Minneapolis differ over whether he was handcuffed or going for the officer's gun.

COLBERT: You know, we took a very biased approach with this, to be completely honest. The police narrative is out there, whether it be the police themselves giving press conferences after the person is killed or, you know, when these prosecutors come out and give their tale of what happened. And I think, you know, Breonna Taylor's case recently has really shed a light on the fact that these prosecutors aren't always truthful in terms of what they're presenting to us. And so because of that, we really want to give these families a platform to speak for themselves. We didn't feel like, you know, these local and sometimes even national outlets were really giving them a chance to fully speak their truth.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to hear this clip of Dorothy Elliott talking about her son Archie Elliott III, who was killed by police in District Heights, Md., in 1993.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "SAY THEIR NAME")

DOROTHY ELLIOTT: He was such a shy, little boy growing up. And he never complained about anything, you know? He loved the Redskins at the time. He loved baseball. He loved riding his bike. He loved doing what the typical kids do. He loves movies and...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, she had a hard time getting the story of her son out to local media at the time.

COLBERT: You know, her situation - Archie Elliott's death happened in 1993. And Archie Elliott was pulled over for a DUI. He was searched - he only had jean shorts on - handcuffed, hands behind his back. There was a lap seat belt put on him in the front of a police cruiser. And then the police said he had a gun that he was pointing at them while he was in their police cruiser. And they shot at him 22 times, hitting him 14 times at point-blank range, something where - you know, you would think this is very cut and dry. Clearly, he couldn't have done anything wrong. And yet and still, the officers were still let off. She never got an opportunity to really tell her story.

And so that clip that you just played is her talking about who he was as a person. And I think that's where we always start our episodes, talking about them as an individual because for people to really be spurred to help make a change, they really need to feel connected to these stories and see themselves, see their loved ones within these stories.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I guess the story of Dorothy Elliott really highlights how so many of these families have had to fight for justice on their own.

COLBERT: Oh, yeah. She has basically, you know, gone broke, like many of these families, you know, trying to fight. You know, you see these lawyers. And you sometimes forget how much that costs. Then a lot of these people need therapy. A lot of these people, like Kaldrick Donald's family, are still living in the same home where their loved one was killed by an officer. You know, in that case, the officer killed their loved one in their bathroom. And so every single day, they have to walk by the bathroom where their son was killed. And so they can't afford to even get out of there. Some of these families couldn't even bury their own children or, you know, had a very difficult time doing so. And so, yeah, there's just, you know, a very ongoing battle that they continue to fight outwardly in terms of the justice piece but even internally to just try to get some kind of calm and some kind of peace.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Chris Colbert, executive producer of the Say Their Names podcast. Thank you very much.

COLBERT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: November 21, 2020 at 10:00 PM MST
A previous headline and description for this segment incorrectly identified the name of Chris Colbert's podcast as Say Their Names. The podcast is titled Say Their Name.