ProPublica reporter Hannah Dreier is the winner of the 2019 John Bartlow Martin Award for Public Interest Magazine Journalism for her series “Trapped in Gangland” on MS-13. The series was co-published with New York magazine, Newsday and the New York Times. Sponsored by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, the award recognizes work that illuminates the causes, consequences and remedies of problems in American society.
Dreier’s powerful narratives showed how the government’s bungled crackdown on MS-13 has torn apart the lives of Latino immigrants on Long Island — deporting innocent teenagers, burning law enforcement sources and failing to prevent further violence. Dreier spent months gaining the trust of a teenage informant who helped the FBI catch fellow MS-13 members, believing authorities would offer him a new life. Instead, they betrayed him by turning him over to ICE. Dreier’s next story depicted a mother searching for her missing son, whom police had dismissed as a runaway until his macheted body was found in the gang’s “killing fields.” The series’ final article featured an asylum-seeker accused of gang membership and deported for drawing a devil, his school mascot but also an MS-13 symbol. A school-based police officer reported the doodle, circumventing privacy protections.
In response to the series, Long Island police began investigating the mishandling of MS-13 murders and the officers who belittled the distraught mother. Homeland Security opened a civil rights investigation, and ICE changed a practice that jeopardizes informants. Several Long Island school districts have sought a formal agreement with the police liming officers’ roles in schools.
“This year’s competition generated an amazing array of stories from sexual harassment to immigration to prison abuse and more,” contest chair Patti Wolter said. “Dreier’s investigation delivers searing portraits of the real people caught in the horrific crosshairs of policy, police and gang culture.”
Judges also awarded honorable mention to “Trashed,” a collaboration with the Investigative Fund by reporter Kiera Feldman. The series exposed dangerous practices and conditions in the world of private commercial garbage collection in New York City, including fatal accidents, mob unions, checkered oversight and wholesale impunity.