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Justice In America Season 3: Zak Cheney Rice

Zak Cheney Rice joins Josie Duffy Rice as a guest cohost for season 3 of the podcast, starting February 26.

The third season of Justice in America launches February 26. You can find it on Apple Podcast, Stitcher, SoundCloud, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Hosted by Josie Duffy Rice, president of The Appeal, each episode of Justice in America focuses on a different topic in the criminal justice system. Through conversation, storytelling, media, and interviews, the show sheds light on how our system functions, and the ways in which it disproportionately harms poor people and people of color.

This season, the show features four guest co-hosts. Let’s meet one of the hosts, Zak Cheney Rice.


The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter


Zak Cheney Rice is a staff writer at New York Magazine where he covers race and inequality for Intelligencer, the publication’s digital politics vertical. His analysis-based work focuses on how race affects elections, policy, and the criminal-legal system. 

His recent writing includes a profile of Bryan Stevenson, and for the print magazine, interviews with Ta-Nehisi Coates and commentary on Georgia’s abortion ban and voting rights in the South.

Previously, he was a writer and editor at Mic, where he helped develop the site’s culture and racial justice coverage. His reporting included embeds in Ferguson, Missouri, during the 2014 unrest and on Arizona’s Indian reservations, covering inequality in education.

Zak has made guest appearances on NPR and the BBC. He is originally from Southern California, and lives in Atlanta with his wife and child.



Josie Duffy Rice: Hey everyone. I’m Josie Duffy Rice. Season three of Justice in America is just around the corner and we’re doing things a little bit different this time around. Unfortunately, my friend, Clint Smith won’t be able to join us for this season, and while I’m going to miss him, I’m super excited about some of the truly amazing people I’ve asked to join me as co-host for season three. I spent some time with each of my new co-hosts hanging out and talking about who they are and what they like and what they do for our ten questions bonus. So let’s talk to Zak Cheney Rice. Zak is a journalist at New York Magazine who covers race and politics and he also happens to be my husband. I’m so, so excited of course that he’s joining us as one of our co-hosts this season. And so let’s talk to Zak for our ten questions bonus. Hi Zak. 

Zak Cheney Rice: Hi Jojo. 

Josie: Are you excited? Are you ready? 

Zak: Born ready.

Josie: Okay, great. Born ready. So the first question is where do you live and where are you from? It’s a two parter. 

Zak: Two parter. Funny you should ask. I live with you in Atlanta, Georgia and I’m originally from Los Angeles where I was born and raised, which I miss a lot, but I think we were in Brooklyn before moving to Atlanta and I have to say Atlanta is to me, an upgrade.

Josie: Yeah we like it here. 

Zak: It’s just much more my speed.

Josie: And we still root for all the LA teams. So it’s a pretty good compromise, right? 

Zak: Raising our son to be like mostly an LA sports fan I would say. 

Josie: Yeah, I’m fine with that. 

Zak: We got a lot of Lakers games recorded and in the middle of the day when he’s bored or when he starts screaming ‘Basketball! Basketball! Lakers!’ We’ll put on a Laker game for him. 

Josie: Yeah, I’m fine with that. If it distracts him, he can be a fan of whatever he wants. What do you do? So let’s talk a little bit about your work, what you’re working on these days, what you focus on. 

Zak: Yeah. I’m a journalist for New York Magazine. Intelligencer, the politics vertical is where I work specifically and I cover race and politics very broadly speaking with sort of an ancillary focus on criminal justice and I’m kind of in the day to day sort of the daily grind of daily news analysis a lot of the time. I also from time to time get to write for the magazine, the print magazine, which I’m doing right now. I’m working on some stuff for an issue about voting rights and well the issue itself isn’t about voting rights exclusively. I’m writing about voting rights for an issue that is about a potential second term of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Josie: Oh. I didn’t know that. That’s exciting. 

Zak: I know you didn’t. 

Josie: I’m really excited about that. 

Zak: I saved that for this and surprised you. 

Josie: I’m excited to see what you write. What got you interested in the criminal justice system? 

Zak: I wouldn’t say there’s any single thing or event that got me interested. I think aside from just kind of personal interactions with police as a teenager, and I think what could be accurately described as sort of generalized teenage antipathy towards the police, I think my sort of systemic analysis was informed a lot by my interest in the Black Panther Party and their history. I was reading a lot of Huey Newton and even like outside of the Party some Angela Davis and reading about and understanding how law enforcement was used to undermine the civil rights work that they were doing, I think kind of like shaped a lot of how I, I think to this day think about criminal justice, but especially early on.

Josie: So who or what has had the most influence on your view of criminal justice? So I heard you say the Black Panthers, but are there other people, books, thinkers, etcetera, that have really influenced the way that you think about the criminal justice system?

Zak: Have you heard of Josie Duffy Rice?

Josie: (Laughs) I didn’t know what you were going to say and I was like, who is this person that he doesn’t know if I’ve heard of?

Zak: No, but seriously my wife Josie, the host extraordinary. This podcast is extraordinary, criminal legal system mind who kind of like shapes a lot of how I think about it.

Josie: That’s very sweet and very-

Zak: And I’m not lying I swear.

Josie: That’s very kind. It helps to live with me and have to hear about it constantly.

Zak: It really is kind of a numbers game. By sheer volume. (Laughing) I don’t have a choice.

Josie: (Laughs) Yeah, it is true that this is, I would say like the top three things I talk about are all are like prosecutors, my son-

Zak: Prosecutors. The third thing is prosecutors too. 

Josie: Other things I want to, no, like ways I want to decorate our house. Yeah, that’s a big one. 

Zak: Then prosecutors is fourth. 

Josie: Yeah, prosecutors is fourth, again.

Zak: I mentioned before Huey Newton, Angela Davis, a guest you had on last season, Miriame Kaba, I think about, you know, her writing and speaking about prison abolition I think has like reshaped how I think a lot about this. There’s a guy named Khalil Gibran Muhammad. I don’t know if I’m saying his middle name correctly. Your Gibran? It’s with a G and he wrote a really great book called The Condemnation of Blackness and it’s about how blackness came to be understood as basically synonymous with criminality in big cities sort of in the late 19th century. And that’s informed I think a lot of my work and my writing.

Josie: It’s funny how that happened right after the Civil War. What a coincidence. Oh man. 

Zak: I was going to make a pithy cause obviously that’s exactly why. 

Josie: Of course. Right. Do you have like one memory or one moment that helped to give a personal connection to the system or like to shape your own personal investment in the system?

Zak: I would be lying if I said there was any single moment or a single connection. I have several close friends and family members who’ve either been to jail or prison. I’ve had much more minor run ins with police myself, but it’s been a persistent presence. Policing, especially I think in my, especially starting with when I was a teenager, sort of at the time when I was, I was kind of coming to understand and read a lot more about this stuff and those experiences I think were all formative.

Josie: And is there like a certain topic in the criminal justice system that’s of particular importance to you?

Zak: I would say again, policing and police violence. I covered the Ferguson protests pretty early in my journalism career. I think it was-

Josie: Also pretty early in us dating and it was extremely, extremely stressful.

Zak: I actually, I actually got my first full time job in journalism. I started the day after, wait, what was it?

Josie: Yeah like the day after we started dating? 

Zak: After we met? 

Josie: Yeah.

Zak: Yeah, so this all, my career is pretty, runs concurrently with my relationship, but a couple of months in Mike Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson and I actually wasn’t sent down to cover it for the sort of initial protests and backlash. But in November when they were announcing the indictment decision about Darren Wilson, they sent me down and I was there for over a week and report a lot of stories from there and that was like kind of my first big assignment and it’s something that has obviously like shaped the course of what I’ve done since and I think about a lot still.

Josie: I will also tell the story to our listeners that Zak was in Ferguson and all you’re seeing is kind of new stations panicking about riots, which ended up being more that the police were rioting than people on the street, but Zak wasn’t answering my text messages and I was in total panic and then I saw him in the background on a CNN, a CNN like clip texting. I don’t know. He was like on his phone.

Zak: I was tweeting, I don’t like it anymore than you do.

Josie: And I was like, he’s alive! And also he’s on his phone!

Zak: I hate Twitter. If you go to my Twitter you’ll notice there’s an aura that comes off my Twitter that is like, this dude hates Twitter and doesn’t use it nearly as much as he should, but I was trying to do my job. That’s why I was on the phone. Was getting around to those texts to you babe. 

Josie: Yeah eventually.

Zak: That was my next-

Josie: Well you’re here. I’ll let it go eventually. That was a good six years ago now, but eventually. Where do you go for news? We’ve been asking this question and saying criminal justice news which is a pretty narrow topic? So I’m going to say news in general but criminal justice news is also helpful.

Zak: Yeah, the hands down best criminal justice coverage for my money these days is being done by the

Josie: He is a great husband. 

Zak: No, honestly really good stuff and not just I have, I also have friends who I know, aside from my wife, who work there and are all really brilliant folks and I’m really proud of the work they do there. And I would follow their work wherever they were working and they’re working at The Appeal and covering criminal justice for The Appeal and I’m like so happy they are there and I think they’re doing incredible stuff. I feel the same about my colleagues at New York Magazine, some of my favorite writers. It really helps, I think, to be in this industry and be a fan of the people you’re working with. 

Josie: Yeah. It’s true. 

Zak: And I like very much am at New York Mag and yeah, again, I mean I read, I think I get exposed cause it’s such a like kind of dense news ecology out there that to narrow it down, like having filters there aside from like okay this is my general filters that narrow it down that’s really helpful. So I again like places my friends work at like The Times, The Atlantic Mother Jones, Huff Post, Teen Vogue does great stuff on political analysis and stuff. I have friends who work there and obviously local stuff is really important. I’m fairly, my wife doesn’t know that I’m a fairly avid daily AJC reader.

Josie: I know that’s, I appreciate that.

Zak: I’m a subscriber. 

Josie: You are? 

Zak: Yeah. 

Josie: I think we’re both paying for an AJC subscription. (Laughs) Support local news. 

Zak: Texas Monthly

Josie: I love Texas Monthly. And what are you reading now?

Zak: So I read for work a lot, honestly more than I want to. So when I like read, read, I try to read stuff that’s not for work and I try to read for pleasure as much as possible. And as my wife can tell you very unhappily, my favorite genre is horror. I’m like a huge horror fan, movies and books and I’m reading The Haunting of Hill House right now, the original by Shirley Jackson. And I’m kind of more of the work related tip. I’m slowly piecemeal working my way through The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter. And it’s kind of about historically how this idea of whiteness came to be constructed. And it’s really interesting and really, she’s a really great stylist. She’s a great writer. So it’s fun to read.

Josie: So what do you do for fun when you’re not working? What are your guilty pleasures? I obviously know a lot of these, I hope but, but for people that don’t live in the same house as you, what are the things you do in your very little off time? 

Zak: As you can attest, I’m a father so I’m not allowed to have fun. I don’t have time for fun. (Laughs) That’s not true. My son is a lot of fun.

Josie: (Laughing) He is. He’s very fun.

Zak: I again, I love horror books and horror movies. I love movies generally. I studied film in school and learned very quickly that I like never ever wanted to work in film, but I’ve maintained my appreciation and love for it. So I love going to the movies. I love watching films. I’ve a Criterion channel subscription that I’m obsessed with a lot of like foreign and documentary stuff. I also just like Shutter subscriber on Amazon, which is great for horror. And I love basketball, watching and playing. Although I haven’t played in awhile, I’m very actively trying to get back into game shape.

Josie: Got a basketball hoop for Christmas. 

Zak: That’s right. Thank you.

Josie: Yeah. That was from your mom but you’re welcomed. And you also like cooking. 

Zak: I was going to say cooking, but specifically like I like cooking, I like grilling. I like outdoor cooking as much as possible. 

Josie: You do a lot of indoor cooking. 

Zak: Yeah, if I had to narrow it down for the real heads out there listening, if I had to, if I dealt like narrow down the type I would prefer, I mean I like grilling and smoking like meat and fish and stuff. 

Josie: Yeah, and you’re great at it. 

Zak: Thank you. 

Josie: Everybody is welcome to our house for dinner. 

Zak: You’re not welcome to our house. Unless you bring money.

Josie: (Laughs) Bring your own meat. Okay, here’s our last question. What is, this kind of combines all the stuff you like really.

Zak: Yeah. 

Josie: What’s your favorite criminal justice movie? 

Zak: Yeah. It’s ironic because I actually like, it does combine all the things that I like and I’m interested in and I have no-

Josie: Other than grilling.

Zak: Well, if I could find a movie that heavily involves grilling. That’d be really impressive. An obscure  little movie called Point Break, which is about-

Josie: Oh my god, are you kidding me? 

Zak: It’s the single best cop movie. I mean this unironically, this is a great film.

Josie: Y’all. If you understood how much I have to hear about Point Break. Zak wanted to name our child after Patrick Swayze in Point Break

Zak: Bodhi.

Josie: Who has Farrah Fawcett hair and is like robbing banks.

Zak: It’s about a group of surfers who Rob banks across Southern California and Keanu Reeves, so the surfers are like, the ringleader is, is this like kind of guru type named Bodhi who’s played by Patrick Swayze, rest in power, and Keanu Reeves plays the, the FBI agent who is tasked with infiltrating, snuffing out the bank robbers. 

Josie: I can’t believe somehow this is going to involve Point Break. The amount of times I have to hear about Point Break

Zak: It’s a surf movie. It’s a good, it’s a great California movie and it makes me nostalgic for home. It’s like a good home away from home, kind of. 

Josie: wait, you’re about to ask my ten questions and when it comes to favorite criminal justice movie, I’m going to get payback for this. This is going to be very real. I don’t know what that means, but I’m very much looking forward to it. Point Break. I stand by it. 

Josie: Oh god. Okay.

Zak: Catherine Bigelow. 

Josie: Great movie. I mean, Point Break is fine. Like I don’t hate it. It just, it’s-

Zak: So quotable. 

Josie: It’s deeply, deeply, deeply overrated in this house. 

Zak: I’m not going to, y’all don’t deserve my Keanu Reeves impression right now. 

Josie: (Laughing) Oh man. Earned is a nice way of saying, you guys are lucky. Okay, so on that note, thank you Zacky for joining us for a bonus ten questions and I’m so excited you are one of the guest hosts this season. It’s been thrilling. 

Zak: It’s been a thrill. And thank you for having me on. 

Josie: Of course. Always. Please make sure to also check out our ten questions bonus for Darnell Moore, me, Josie Duffy Rice, Donovan X. Ramsey and Derecka Purnell. Remember, our new season starts on February 26th so subscribe on Apple Podcasts, on Stitcher, on Google Play or wherever you listen to podcasts and find us on Facebook at Justice in America or on Twitter @Justice_Podcast. We’re looking forward to talking to you on February 26th.