Columbus Can’t Wait explores the past, present of police violence

For the second season of the podcast, cohosts Tareya Palmer and Malcolm White narrow the focus while still presenting a bigger picture of the inequity and inequality that exist within the city

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Malcolm White and Tareya Palmer of the Columbus Can't Wait podcast

Podcast cohosts Tareya Palmer and Malcolm White carefully plotted the second season of Columbus Can’t Wait, which is dedicated entirely to the issue of police violence against the Black community within the city.

The two knew they wanted to start with deep dives into instances where an officer shot and killed Black citizens, dedicating full episodes to sitting down with the mothers of Trae Darson, Henry Green and Casey Goodson. From there, the initial plan was to expand the scope, spending the rest of the 10-episode season exploring topics such as the historical hurdles to police reform and speaking with citizens, politicians and potentially even former police officers, trying to get a better grip on an ongoing crisis.

More:The city and the FOP: A decades-old drama boils over

And then, on Tuesday, a Columbus police officer shot and killed 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant. This news almost immediately followed word that a jury had found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty in the murder of George Floyd, a series of events that understandably left the hosts temporarily reeling, reconsidering the shape upcoming episodes might take.

“Now, I think I want to give us the space to be a little more fluid, because when something happens like today, how do we address exactly what we’ve been talking about in real time?” said Palmer, who joined White for a Zoom interview just hours after news of the Bryant shooting broke. “We just want to be a trusted source for people, so I guess we’re going to have to grapple with what that looks like in terms of our bandwidth, because not only are we doing this [podcast], but we have families and jobs, and we also have trauma from all of this, and we have to deal with it and make sure we’re taking care of ourselves. It’s like, how much can a person take? So we have to decide what that could even look like.”

“Honestly, high-key this is why we do the podcast, this city can’t wait,” White said. “I saw a Facebook status earlier today, and it really put this moment into perspective, but it was about how a country watched a man literally be murdered, choked to death over nine minutes, and then, 11 months later, the whole country watched in unison, holding their breath because they didn’t know what verdict was going to be handed out. And when the verdict came down, you could feel it, across the country it was a celebration, and people were celebrating because at least a measure of accountability was issued. And the status I read [on Facebook], it put it into perspective, because it said that white people have never had to celebrate accountability. You know what I mean? Is that the burden of the melanin in our skin? That we don’t really have the luxury of just existing? That we’re in a perpetual state of resistance or struggling or fighting?”

In the first three episodes, all of which are available online (a total of four have been released), Palmer and White engage the mothers of Goodson, Green and Darson, the pair’s conversational approach drawing heartrending details from the women. Darson, for one, points to her own body as proof of her son’s existence, saying, “I got stretch marks to prove Trae was here.” And in the hours after the interview took place, Darson emailed a prayer to the cohosts, thanking them for listening to her story, which she said she had never had the opportunity to share up to that point.

More:The simple but complex life of Casey Goodson

“It’s hard to go through and have these interviews. It’s hard because we drive through these streets. Twenty minutes ago I was just by where Ty’re King was killed. That’s my hangout spot, the first park I ever played in, because it was right next to Douglas [Elementary, now closed], and my mom was a teacher there,” White said. “Just having to encounter that, and be adjacent to it as a citizen, as a Black citizen here in Columbus, is hard. … But it’s still nothing compared to what the moms you’re talking to feel. And then that’s compounded by the pressure to make sure that this story is being told right, because there’s a lack of trust [with the media]. … We want to know who [their children] are as people and not as a hashtag or a stat, and we hope we’re doing them justice, as well.”

While the first season of Columbus Can’t Wait was more scattered, jumping between topics from episode to episode (the podcast was designed, in large part, to help increase political literacy and awareness within the community), Palmer and White came into the second season knowing they wanted to attempt a deeper dive into a single subject, entering into production with the awareness that spending weeks immersed in police violence could be an emotionally taxing, trauma-filled experience.

“I certainly knew that it was going to be emotional for me," Palmer said. "But I’m sitting ... across from the moms. And it just didn’t feel right crying at that table, even if I wanted to.”

In the personal details the moms share in these early interviews, a picture of the inequality and inequity that exist within Columbus begins to emerge, one that presents a larger worldview than might have been expected when the cohosts decided to narrow the focus for this current season.

“I’ve been thinking about Columbus and even the income inequality, and how, when it happened, a lot of the moms were at work, or doing this or that, like, ‘I was just a single mom trying to raise my kid.’ And I think about those things being the reasons they were ignored, because they didn’t have the right connections or know the right people who could advocate for them,” said Palmer, who reminded that Trae Darson’s mom said she had sent repeated letters to the city since her son was killed by police in 2006 but had yet to receive a response. “There are layers of privilege that exist in this city that make it so some people get heard and some people don’t. That’s what we’re trying to tackle: Reminding that people deserve to have a voice no matter where they’re sitting, no matter what police say they did. People deserve decency. They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. And they deserve answers.”