Two students at Northeastern University have produced a podcast series about the history behind the War on Drugs and the lasting impacts that the era had on black communities across the U.S., especially in Boston.
Joe Tache and Prasanna Rajasekaran released the first episode of their series in September, but their interest in the topic started earlier this year.
Tache says that he stumbled upon a string of tweets which talked about the misconceptions about crack cocaine and the drug war. Tache and Rajasekaran were born in 1995, after the period that their podcast focuses on, but still wanted to create a comprehensive project that answers common questions about the time. They also realized that criminal justice reform has been a major topic of the 2016 election, so they wanted a timely podcast to dive into the history of what helped shape our justice system today.
The podcast is ultimately a culmination of over four months of intensive research.
“By creating a podcast series, we allow people to digest all of that information passively,” Tache said. “By simply listening, whether while on your commute or doing your chores, you will gain a very thorough understanding about an era and issue that we think are very important to understand.”
The podcast aims to answer key questions: What was the historical and racial context driving the crack scare? Was crack portrayed accurately by politicians and the media? And how did the crack scare impact urban Black communities?
Tache said that before starting their research, the students didn’t know much about crack cocaine itself.
“We as a country have widely adopted the idea that crack is somehow very distinct from other hard drugs,” Tache said. “By and large, Prasanna and I discovered that pretty much all of our widely held assumptions are large uninformed, if not completely untrue.”
The process for completing the podcast involved many interviews for Tache and Rajasekaran. They conducted academic and community interviews with 30 people, culminating in seven episodes.
“Universally, people who lived in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Boston during the ‘80s and ‘90s agreed that it was a really rough time for their communities,” Tache said. “[Prasanna and I] considered it our job to use that input to explain why things were so rough, exactly how rough they were, etc.”
The first episode of the podcast explains that the response of cocaine was part of a larger ideology that viewed Black people in the low-income urban areas as crime prone, and that manifested in Boston with the Charles Stuart case.
Charles Stuart was a white man who killed his pregnant wife and claimed she was murdered by a black man in the Mission Hill area in 1989. Tache said that because of the hysteria surrounding Blackness, crime, and violence, the police jumped onto the case, ransacking housing projects and identifying a Black male suspect based off a description Stuart gave. Stuart’s story eventually unraveled and him jumped off the Tobin Bridge to his death.
“Boston needs to confront that past, and examine how it has shaped the present,” Tache said. “It needs to confront the racial disparities in its justice system, and in pretty much every other facet of city life. That’s part of why we think Colored is important.”
On a personal level, Tache and Rajasekaran have also learned how important it is for students to get out of the “college bubble.”
“We’ve been at Northeastern for over three years, and we’ve done service throughout our time in college, but this past summer was the first time we felt meaningfully engaged with our communities around Boston,” Tache said. “Across the country, college students have the tendency to take, take, take from whatever city they’re in, without really considering how their presence may be impacting certain communities, like Northeastern students moving en masse to Mission Hill. We hope this series can inspire students to be engaged with local communities in more meaningful ways, as it’s inspired me and Prasanna.”
Readers can listen to the podcast on Tache and Rajasekaran’s website coloredpodcast.com, or by searching “Colored Podcast” on their favorite podcast application. There are three episodes currently available.
[This article has been updated.]