It’s another game day Philly, and if you’re playing the Eagles’ defense on your fantasy team, they’ll be getting a workout against the Vikings at the line of scrimmage. Also, today’s Q&A features Mensah Dean, whose reporting brings him from crime scenes to high-stakes court cases.
Each week we go behind the scenes with one of our reporters or editors to discuss their work and the challenges they face along the way. This week we chat with Mensah Dean, who covers corruption and wrongdoing. His most recent work has been with Melanie Burney covering a hate-crime trial.
What was the most surprising court case you covered?
The most surprising case this year was that of Jabir Kennedy. He rejected a plea deal and went to trial for shooting four men, killing one. The jury found him not guilty on all counts. In a city awash in gun violence, it’s very rare that someone who shoots four people walks out of court free as a bird. But Kennedy, who had no criminal record, believed he acted in self-defense. The four men he shot, plus a fifth man that was not shot, came to his Southwest Philly home to beat him up over a dispute. During the beat down, as one of the men was using the handle of a gun to beat Kennedy over the head, the gun fell to the ground, he picked it up and started shooting. Kennedy turned himself in days later and was charged with first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder. After the jury heard all the evidence, including Kennedy’s testimony, it acquitted him.
How do you approach covering crime scenes and victims injured by violence in our city?
Before going to a crime scene I try to learn as much about the incident as possible. Once there, I start looking for and talking to witnesses who saw or heard anything. I ask for cellphone numbers after interviewing those who appear to be credible. This is helpful when I need to reach people if questions pop up and if I want to do a follow-up story. I take pictures with my smartphone as a form of visual note-taking. Before filing my stories I call the police to get the latest developments from them.
What do you hope readers learn when they read your stories?
In addition to wanting to provide readers with all the facts related to an incident, I hope they can personally relate to what I’m writing about. That is, that they can see themselves in the shoes of the people in the article. When people empathize, their interest is heightened and they tend to read the whole article and talk about what they’ve read. Sometimes, they then reach out to me with a tip or story idea.
For those who want to learn more about our court system, what resources are available for them to understand how our legal system works?
There are many credible and helpful websites run by the U.S. Justice Department, states, universities, and nonprofit organizations like the Innocence Project. I would recommend that readers get in the habit of searching the web for these sites. Here are some other examples of websites that do a good job of grouping links for easy reference: Georgetown Law Library and The National Center for Victims of Crime.
Poetry and art? Sounds like a wonderful combination. Thanks for sharing, @voicesinpower_!
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Maybe we remove tipping from the US culture and just pay everyone a fair wage? Now that would probably be a bridge too far. — Crashtest, on La Colombe CEO said businesses should pay $15/hour minimum wage. But he doesn’t.