Podcast 'You Didn't See Nothin' looks into the 1997 beating of Lenard Clark
ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:
Some crimes are so brazen and shocking that they can wound an entire community. And we want to warn listeners that you're about to hear the details of one such crime that are graphic and upsetting. The case centers on Bridgeport, a Chicago neighborhood, in 1997 and a 13-year-old named Lenard Clark.
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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: In Chicago tonight, a group of teenagers is charged with beating a Black boy to a pulp and then boasting that they kept their neighborhood white.
FLORIDO: The beating made national news, and there were local protests. Frankie Caruso, the white 19-year-old convicted in the beating, served just two years of an eight-year sentence. And as time passed, the case faded from the headlines. Many people seemed to forget about the beating. But reporter Yohance Lacour did not. He has a new podcast about it. It's called "You Didn't See Nothin'". Yohance Lacour, welcome.
YOHANCE LACOUR: Hey, Adrian. How are you doing, man? Good to be here.
FLORIDO: It's good to have you. Your podcast introduces us to a lot of the people, you know, who were involved with or touched by this crime. But I want you to introduce us to two of them. First, Lenard Clark; who was he?
LACOUR: Lenard Clark was a kid in the projects, Stateway Gardens, in Chicago; 13-year-old, bright-eyed kid, man, just looking to ride his bike in March of '97.
FLORIDO: And what happened to him?
LACOUR: And so he took a bike ride with his buddy, looked up, had a flat tire, wanted to get some air in his tire. So he traveled across the expressway into Bridgeport. So they ride over there because the air was free there, but it cost a quarter in his neighborhood. And so when he gets there, he gets spotted by some young men, Italian young men from Bridgeport, who just beat him mercilessly and left him in a coma, left him for dead simply because he was Black in their neighborhood.
FLORIDO: One of the teenagers implicated in the beating is Frankie Caruso Jr. But I want you to tell us about another one of the characters in your podcast, and that's Frank Caruso Sr., Frankie's dad. Who was he?
LACOUR: Frank Caruso Sr. was a guy with real deep mob ties from Bridgeport, but he was also apparently a pretty savvy guy and well-connected with Black so-called leaders and activists as well, who was able to pull strings with the folks he knew, call in favors, use his relationships to kind of get the spotlight off of his son and his son's friends and kind of reverse this narrative to a racial reconciliation, let's offer forgiveness kind of thing.
FLORIDO: This beating, because of the racism behind it, really captured the attention of Chicago and the nation. But your reporting revolves around what happened next. Even before his son goes on trial, Frank Sr. starts showing up for the Black community. You know, he's volunteering in housing projects, praying at Black churches, even arranging photo-ops so his son can be seen hanging out with Black kids. And he starts calling for healing. Why did you make this the jumping-off point for your series?
LACOUR: Well, the main reason I wanted to - we wanted to lead with that part of the narrative is to kind of alert folks, especially Black folks, to the type of stuff that goes on behind the scenes, right? Like, a cautionary tale - kind of, like, to let folks know that, you know, this powerful guy with his connections and money and muscle is able to, you know, alter perception and have folks talking about and thinking about things that just aren't relevant. So you got this little boy whose life is hanging in the balance, and somehow they're able to kind of, you know, take your mind off of that. And so that's a tactic that just I felt really needed to be exposed.
FLORIDO: You were a young reporter covering this story at the time. And one of the things that seemed to bother you most and that also bothered a lot of activists was that some of the city's most prominent Black pastors and Black religious leaders took the Carusos' side in this story and publicly claimed that Frankie Jr. was innocent. You found recordings of the protests against some of these pastors.
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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: We come to let you all know that the Black community will not continue to take no disrespect.
FLORIDO: I want to play an excerpt from your podcast in which you're reflecting on what these Black leaders did.
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LACOUR: They've done good for the Black community, but when they used their power as leaders to support a white guy who beat a little Black boy into a coma, that's some sellout [expletive]. But does that make them sellouts? Part of my motivation for revisiting this story was to talk to these guys. I wanted to ask them, what really happened here? I want to see if after 25 years, they would have done things differently.
FLORIDO: So you do that in the podcast. You set out to track down all of these guys who were involved back then, the pastors, the Carusos, even Lenard Clark, who became friends with the Caruso family. Why did you think that these people would want to talk to you quarter-century later?
LACOUR: You know, a quarter-century later, I'm a very changed man. A quarter-century ago, you know, I was doing things that, you know, that I wouldn't anymore. And so I had hoped - my highest hope was that, you know, these guys had undergone some similar changes. My highest hope was that, you know, the time that had passed had served them well, too. And so - but I didn't know if they'd want to talk to me, but I hoped they would just because I had hoped that, you know, they'd seen the error in their ways. I had hoped that they realized that they should have played things differently. I'd hoped that they realized that - with the Black folks in particular, that they'd realized they'd been victimized.
FLORIDO: Well, you reported this podcast over a few years, during a time when our nation was really reckoning, at least for a short time, with how we respond when Black people get beaten or killed by white people. So what do you think? Have we seen progress, or do you think we still are where we were 25 years ago when this happened?
LACOUR: Yeah, that's a great question. We've seen progress in ways, but for a people, for a nation of people, no, we haven't seen meaningful change. And so I think that's why, you know, it's so important to me to address the fact that, you know, listen, when they change the narrative, stay on course. You know, it's - a lot of the progress that Black folks and my people and we have not made is because we've been drawn off course by all of these voices and all of these amplified false narratives.
FLORIDO: What about for Chicago's Black community specifically and the neighborhood where Lenard Clark grew up and where he was beaten?
LACOUR: Black folks are not as likely to be attacked, you know, walking through the neighborhood as they were in '97. But it's still a pretty - I still felt hostility just walking through there myself. So I think, just like America, Bridgeport and Chicago's, you know, segregated neighborhoods have changed on its face. But once you kind of dig deeper under the surface, you realize that, you know, the same tensions are there.
FLORIDO: Yohance Lacour is host of the podcast "You Didn't See Nothin'," which is available now. Yohance, thanks for taking the time.
LACOUR: Hey, thanks for having me, Adrian. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.