In 2018, Melissa McKinnies found her 24-year-old son, Danye Jones, hanging from a tree in the backyard of their Missouri home. Police quickly deemed his death a suicide. McKinnies, a prominent Ferguson activist, is adamant her son was lynched.
Three years later, Jones’ death is the subject of a podcast, “After the Uprising: The Death of Danye Dion Jones.” Indianapolis native Ray Nowosielski and John Duffy host the 11-part series. The duo, who both live in southern Indiana, learned of Jones’ case through Twitter. After learning some of the details of the case, Nowoseilski said a podcast seemed like the best way to capture the story.
“The difference between the type of journalism that we think gets some real results and the other kind of journalism that takes a lot of heat from the public, the difference seems to be the amount of time you’re with a group of people and get to know their world,” Nowoseilski said. “… We’ve done documentaries and books in the past, and we were looking to explore podcasting.”
To contextualize Jones’ death — and why his family is at odds with the local police — requires an understanding of St. Louis County, Missouri.
The small town on the eastern edge of the state was once a rural, predominately white area. Racial tensions heightened in the 1970s, when an influx of African Americans moved into Section 8 apartments. Since the ‘90s, it has been a predominately Black community, after real estate companies encouraged white homeowners to sell their homes at a loss, implying African Americans moving in would depress property values.
Tensions between residents of St. Louis County and local police made international headlines in 2014 after police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an 18-year-old, unarmed Black teenager. For three days, protesters were met with military-like force from police and the National Guard. Since then, many prominent activists have been targeted, and some suspiciously killed. McKinnies, who helped organize demonstrations, said in the podcast she’d received ominous messages from police officers before the death of her son.
While Nowoseilski and Duffy became close with Jones’ family, their main objective throughout the series remained to find the truth about what happened to Danye.
“We pride ourselves on our ability to be emotionally connected,” Nowoseilski said. “Maybe we want the answer to be something in particular, but if we find something contradictory, we explore it. It’s difficult to do this story without getting close to Danye’s family, and we’re rooting for them. But our duty is to the truth.”
The truth, as listeners learn in the series, is muddled by alleged missteps by the St. Louis County Police Department. Notably, the sheet that was used to hang Jones — which family say did not match any sheets in the house — had trace amounts of DNA from unidentified individuals. Despite this finding, the bedsheet was never swabbed thoroughly, and ultimately, the evidence was destroyed by police.
Duffy and Nowoseilski are awaiting a call to action from Jones’ family before moving forward. Throughout their reporting, they realized Jones’ story is not unique. Several families they met said the homicides of their loved ones went uninvestigated.
The podcast is complete. If you want to know what happened in the Jones case, “After the Uprising: The Death of Danye Dion Jones” is available wherever you stream podcasts.
A local angle
Indianapolis residents tuning into “After the Uprising” will hear a familiar name. Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears offered some legal advice to co-host Ray Nowoseilski. The two were classmates at Cardinal Ritter High School.
Nowoseilski cites Indiana Black Expo as his “origin story.” As a high school student, he took part in the organization’s video program, made up of teenagers of diverse backgrounds.
“I got exposed to a lot of friends and future colleagues, and it set me on the path I’m on now,” Nowoseilski said. “I owe that organization a lot.”
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.