Weekend Edition Saturday

Saturday mornings are made for Weekend Edition Saturday, the program wraps up the week's news and offers a mix of analysis and features on a wide range of topics, including arts, sports, entertainment, and human interest stories. The two-hour program is hosted by NPR's Peabody Award-winning Scott Simon.

Drawing on his experience in covering 10 wars and stories in all 50 states and seven continents, Simon brings a humorous, sophisticated and often moving perspective to each show. He is as comfortable having a conversation with a major world leader as he is talking with a Hollywood celebrity or the guy next door.

Weekend Edition Saturday has a unique and entertaining roster of other regular contributors. Marin Alsop, conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, talks about music. Daniel Pinkwater, one of the biggest names in children's literature, talks about and reads stories with Simon. Financial journalist Joe Nocera follows the economy. Howard Bryant of EPSN.com and NPR's Tom Goldman chime in on sports. Keith Devlin, of Stanford University, unravels the mystery of math, and Will Grozier, a London cabbie, talks about good books that have just been released, and what well-read people leave in the back of his taxi. Simon contributes his own award-winning essays, which are sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant.

Weekend Edition Saturday is heard on NPR Member stations across the United States, and around the globe on NPR Worldwide. The conversation between the audience and the program staff continues throughout the social media world.

Ghettoside cover detail....
From witnesses to reluctant gang members, Jill Leovy says, "everybody's terrified." Her book, Ghettoside, uses the story of one murder to explore the city's low arrest rate when black men are killed.

In the State of the Union this week, President Obama noted that crime in America is down. "For the first time in 40 years," he said, "the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together."

But in a new book, Los Angeles Times reporter Jill Leovy cites other statistics: About 40 percent of those Americans who are murdered each year are African-American males. And in Los Angeles, where Leovy covers crime, police arrest a suspect in those killings only 38 percent of the time over the last 30 years, amounting to what she calls "impunity for the murder of black men."

In Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America, Leovy uses the story of a single murder to trace the loss of life and the failures of police and courts. She tells NPR's Scott Simon about the murder at the center of her book and the challenge of getting witnesses to talk.

Interview Highlights

On the 2007 murder of 18-year-old Bryant Tennelle

A car pulls up around the corner. A young black man jumps out of the car, raises his gun and shoots. Bryant is struck in the head and falls on the lawn. ... His father is a homicide detective, an RHD, which is the elite homicide unit in the LAPD. ...

The LAPD, I think, sensibly treated this case as any case. But there were some twists and turns when it went unsolved for a couple months. Frustrations mounted in the department. It was an extremely emotional case, as you might imagine, for all of Tennelle's [father's] colleagues. Eventually the case is transferred from one detective to another. The lieutenant in charge asks around and says, "Who really do we have who really knows the street, who really solves cases?" And they come up with the name of John Skaggs, who had been quietly toiling in a backwater ... solving these kinds of crimes. He has expended great effort doing thankless work on cases that no one in the city noticed at all.

On what the Tennelle murder investigation found

The [detectives] ... call it "profiling murder." And so what's happening is gang members will get in a car, they will go to the rival neighborhood to send a message and they will just look for the easiest, most likely victim they can find. And [it's] probably going to be a young black man. And if he fits the part, that's good enough. And an astonishing number of victims — I did a count in 2008 of 300-some LA homicides of the gang-related homicides, and I think something like 40 percent of the victims were this sort of a victim: non-combatant, not directly party to the quarrel that instigated the homicide, but ended up dead nonetheless.

On the challenge of getting witnesses to talk

Well, everybody's terrified. I've had people clutch my clothes and beg me to not even write that there was anybody at the scene. I'm not even describing them. They just don't want anyone to know that there was somebody at the scene. ...

In the big years in LA, in the early '90s, young black men in their early 20s — who, by the way, are a disproportionate group among homicide witnesses because this is the milieu they're in — had a rate of death from homicide that was higher than those of American troops in Iraq in about 2005. So people talk about a "war zone" — it was higher than a combat death rate. They are terrified, they have concrete reason to be terrified and then the justice system comes along and asks them to put themselves in possibly even more danger. What would you do?

On the dangers of leaving a gang or refusing to join one

It's very, very hard to pull yourself out. ... [When] I did the Homicide Report, which is the blog I did of homicides, I had at least three young men that year who were killed for refusing to join their local gang. They took a moral stand and they said, "I won't join. I don't want to be a criminal." And they got killed for it.

On how much police departments are to blame

I see the problem as lying outside police departments far more than inside police departments. It's easy to blame the police. But we have the police we deserve; we have the police we've asked to have. There is tremendous emphasis on prevention: We want to know about crime before it's going to happen; we want to target it and saturate areas with police officers. All of this kind of fuzzy thinking that, on the street, doesn't feel like justice to the people who live in these neighborhoods. It translates to a system that falls short on catching killers [and] prosecuting them for the most serious crimes.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Chicago Cub Ernie Banks, right, told NPR's Scott Simon, left, in 2014 that h...
Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks has died. NPR's Scott Simon remembers the two-time National League MVP as the nice guy who finished first and brought smiles to all his fans' faces.

Every Saturday just before our show begins I get on the public address system here to announce to our crew, "It's a beautiful day for a radio show. Let's do two today!"

It's an admiring imitation of Ernie Banks, the Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame baseball player who died last night at the age of 83. Ernie used to say, especially in the long years of hot summers — including this last one, when the Cubs were stuck in last place — "It's a beautiful day for a ballgame. Let's play two today!"

It became his signature line. People on the street people would ask for it, the way kids at a concert call out for Bruce Springsteen to sing "Born in the U.S.A.", and he'd oblige. "Let's play two! Let's play two!" It was a phrase he used to remind himself and other players that whatever their complaints, they got to play a game for a living, and hear the cheers of strangers. It was a reminder to all of us to cherish life and the chance to have work that gives enjoyment to others.

Ernie Banks had to hang his uniform on a nail when he began to play ball with the Kansas City Monarchs of the old Negro Leagues in 1950. In 2013, the president of the United States, an African-American man from his hometown, hung the Presidential Medal of Freedom around his neck.

Leo Durocher, the old player and manager who had famously groused, "Nice guys finish last," and was more noted for epithets than compliments, said, "Banks is the one nice guy who finished first — but he had the talent to go with it."

It was that talent — the almost feline-slender wrists that could snap a baseball bat like a whip — and his lifelong stats that got him into the Hall of Fame. Ernie Banks hit 512 home runs. He was twice the Most Valuable Player in the National League, but over the years of playing with a team that became best-known as a punchline for losing, it was another stat by which he became known: No man ever played more games without ever getting into a championship game.

I got to interview Ernie Banks a few times over the years: as a young reporter, for a couple of books, and on this show. He was unfailingly gracious. But he also plainly enjoyed being Ernie Banks for people. He enjoyed seeing the smiles he could bring to children's faces, and the way he could make middle-aged people light up like children when they saw him.

Ernie Banks was a big star. But he was also baseball's sunshine.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Ernie Banks, Hall of Fame baseball player, has died. NPR's Scott Simon and Tom Goldman remember the Chicago Cub who meant so much to the city, and the fans he loved to greet.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.