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The Why: Philly Explained

News & Politics Podcasts

There’s more to every story, if you take the time to tell it. Get to the “why” behind the issues that matter in the Greater Philadelphia region with hosts Annette John-Hall and Shai Ben-Yaacov. Each episode, they’ll pluck one local story from your feed and break it down.

There’s more to every story, if you take the time to tell it. Get to the “why” behind the issues that matter in the Greater Philadelphia region with hosts Annette John-Hall and Shai Ben-Yaacov. Each episode, they’ll pluck one local story from your feed and break it down.


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There’s more to every story, if you take the time to tell it. Get to the “why” behind the issues that matter in the Greater Philadelphia region with hosts Annette John-Hall and Shai Ben-Yaacov. Each episode, they’ll pluck one local story from your feed and break it down.






Philly could ban using tear gas, rubber bullets on protesters

On Thursday, Philadelphia City Council is expected to pass a ban police officers’ use of tear gas, rubber bullets and other “less lethal munitions” against protesters. The city’s police department already put a moratorium on these tactics after police clashed with racial justice demonstrators in late May and early June. That policy was put to the test Monday night when violence erupted in response to the death of Walter Wallace, a Black man who was shot and killed by police in the city’s...


The chances of flipping the Pa. legislature blue

Republicans have dominated state politics in Harrisburg for decades. For Democrats, gaining control of the General Assembly has been something of a holy grail — elusive, but they’re inching closer. And this year, there’s a chance both chambers could be up for grabs. WHYY political reporter Katie Meyer explains that while Democrats still face an uphill battle, their growing appeal in the suburbs could help them gain more seats in the Legislature.


Philly’s new legal strategy to bypass the state and enact gun laws

Philadelphia is suing state of Pennsylvania so it can enact stronger gun control laws, as at least 391 people have been murdered in the city so far this year. Philly has tried this before — in 2007, the city sued the state for preempting local gun laws and failing to take action on gun violence, without success. There were 391 homicides in the city that entire year. WHYY criminal justice reporter Aaron Moselle and Billy Penn’s Layla A. Jones explain why attorneys hope a new legal strategy...


A historic deal on affordable housing in Philly

It was a movement born out of the George Floyd protests for racial justice: Hundreds of people who had experienced homelessness camped out on the Ben Franklin Parkway, on Ridge Avenue and squatted in empty houses across Philadelphia to demand affordable housing. Finally, after months of negotiations with the city and federal housing officials, the two sides have come to an agreement that will clear the encampments and provide permanent housing for residents. WHYY’s Susan Phillips explains...


New push to boost LGBTQ protections in Pa.

Violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people has been on the rise for years. Here in Philly, three Black trans women have been attacked in the last six months — two of them were murdered. Michaela Winberg with WHYY’s Billy Penn explains their cases have called attention to the fact Pennsylvania’s hate crimes law does not include protections for LGBTQ people, and why advocates — including Kendall Stevens, a Black trans woman who survived a brutal attack this year — say that...


Philly Orchestra’s first Black player’s final curtain call

When the Philadelphia Orchestra paused live performances in March, violinist Booker Rowe didn’t expect it would be his final curtain call. Rowe, the first African American to play with the orchestra, retired in August after more than 50 years. He and his wife Dr. Patsy Baxter Rowe, a singer and musical scholar, discuss why his historic career illustrates that progress can be made to diversify the traditionally white world of classical music — and why that world still has a long way to go.


Toomey, Trump and the future of Pa.’s Republicans

When Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Jonathan Tamari got a tip that Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey would be leaving politics after his current term, he was surprised. If he didn’t run for reelection to the Senate, Toomey was widely expected to run for governor. Without him, Pennsylvania Republicans are scrambling. Toomey still has two years left on his term, but his announcement comes just weeks before the presidential election. Jonathan explains why the pick to fill Toomey’s shoes could...


Rooting out Philly’s gun violence epidemic

With nearly three months left to go, more people have been murdered in Philadelphia this year than in all of 2019 and 1,655 people have been shot. The violence is tearing families and communities apart — but many Philadelphians are also stepping forward with ideas to root out the epidemic. WHYY’s Community Contributors and Engagement Editor Chris Norris shares his takeaways from “Neighbors in the Crossfire,” his recent three-part TV series that explores the causes and possible solutions to...


Voting anxiety? Here’s what you need to know

Less than a month away from Election Day, there’s a lot of anxiety hanging over voters’ heads: an unprecedented number of people voting by mail, the coronavirus pandemic and President Trump sowing seeds of doubt over the integrity of the election. WHYY political reporter Katie Meyer walks us through a practical guide to ease the mind of a worried voter: how to properly fill out and send in a mail in ballot (make sure it isn’t naked!), what’s up with Philly’s satellite election offices, the...


SEPTA’s rampant overtime spending

The pandemic has thrown SEPTA into a budget crisis. Ridership and revenue are both way down and the agency is considering service cuts. But that didn’t stop them from spending what experts say is an unusually large amount of money on overtime. One SEPTA police officer doubled his salary and made almost as much as the mayor of Philadelphia. Ryan Briggs with WHYY’s PlanPhilly and Michaela Winberg with WHYY’s Billy Penn uncovered this troubling pattern, which stands in stark relief next to...


Enrolling in COVID-19 vaccine trial as a Black doctor

While surveys have found many Americans — particularly Black Americans — are wary of getting a COVID-19 vaccine if one were to become available soon, New Jersey public health doctor Chris Pernell has jumped in feet first, signing up as a subject for a Phase III clinical vaccine trial at Rutgers University. She says it’s important for Black people like her to be included in clinical trials to ensure the results reflect the general population, and because Black Americans have been hit the...


How Pennsylvania fumbled COVID-19 death counts

During the deadliest months of the pandemic so far, Pennsylvania’s new electronic death reporting system was not ready for prime time. The state still relied on faxes — yes, faxes — from funeral directors, doctors and medical examiners to create an official death record. Sara Simon dug into the delays for Spotlight PA, along with WHYY’s Nina Feldman and Ryan Briggs. She explains that just when public officials were making tough decisions about how to allocate scarce resources, like COVID-19...


The new COVID-19 app: the promises and the tradeoffs

As we wait for scientists to produce a COVID-19 vaccine, contract tracing is one of the most reliable ways to stop the spread. Now, Pennsylvania and Delaware have also released a new “exposure notification app” to let users know if they’ve been near someone who’s tested positive for the virus. New Jersey is piloting its app on college campuses. WHYY health and science reporter Alan Yu explains this could help reach people traditional contact tracing isn’t — but there’s a tradeoff: The...


Why the Biden-Harris ticket needs Black Philadelphians

Pennsylvania is going to be one of the most important states — if not THE most important state — in determining the outcome of this year’s presidential election. President Trump won Pennsylvania by a narrow margin in 2016, thanks in part to a crucial number of Democratic voters sitting out the election. WHYY’s political reporter Katie Meyer explains that’s why this year, the question in Philly is not whether the Biden-Harris ticket will win the city, but by how much. One key group they have...


Want answers to Philly gun violence? Ask someone who’s lived it

More than 1,500 people have been shot in Philadelphia this year, many of them children. Over the past 20 years, the city has tried all kinds of approaches to stop gun violence — broken windows policing, and programs with names like Focused Deterrence and now, Group Violence Intervention — but nothing seems to be working. What are we missing? Guest John Solomon runs Endangered Kind, a nonprofit dedicated to stopping gun violence. Solomon, 28, did time in prison for shooting someone and has...


Philly Latinos are under-tested for COVID-19

Latinos in Philadelphia make up 15% of the city’s population — but only 6% of those who’ve gotten tested for COVID-19. In fact, they’re getting tested at the lowest rate of any racial and ethnic group in the city, despite contracting the virus at high rates. When WHYY health reporter Nina Feldman spoke to Latino residents and community leaders, she learned there are several reasons why, including language barriers, anti-immigrant policies and sentiments, as well as limited job security and...


HIV-era policy still limits gay men from giving blood during COVID

Antibody-rich plasma from people who’ve recovered from COVID-19 is one treatment being researched to help those still battling the virus. But an estimated 360,000 people willing to donate their plasma are not allowed to do so — despite the fact it could save roughly a million Americans. WHYY’s Zoe Read explains why a relic of the 1980s HIV epidemic still limits gay men from giving blood. She says Philly area politicians and LGBTQ advocates are pushing back.


Philly’s changing union labor scene

Union membership is at a historic low in the U.S. while public support for unions is on the rise. And in Philadelphia — long known as a blue-collar “labor town” — the kinds of workers organizing has been changing. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Juliana Reyes, who covers labor and unions, explains why millennials in particular are driving that shift, which started before the COVID-19 pandemic gave workers’ rights issues new urgency.


Philly’s looming eviction crisis

Having a safe place to live has never been more important than during the COVID-19 pandemic. But as the economic fallout forced millions of people out of work, many of them struggled to pay their rent. Now, the state’s moratorium on evictions has expired. The CDC has stepped in with its own federal moratorium and renters in Philly recently got a temporary reprieve, but neither offers a longterm solution. Ryan Briggs of WHYY’s PlanPhilly explains why as many as 100,000 households in the city...


Incarcerated instead of in treatment

Nationwide, 20% of people in jails have a mental health condition — which means there are a lot of people like Kim, who end up incarcerated instead of in treatment. That’s exactly what happened to a Bucks County woman named Kim Stringer. WITF health reporter Brett Sholtis digs into what happened to Kim to explain why a Pennsylvania law meant to fix the problem hasn’t made a difference yet.