This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: The Crime Report details three corrections administrators’ successes in containing the spread of COVID-19. A piece from the Marshall Project focuses on probation and parole in the time of COVID-19, highlighting the many barriers – court closures, faulty technology, and delays in post-release programs – keeping a population prime for release behind bars. The Washington Post looks back on the early ‘90s, when a tuberculosis outbreak in New York City’s prisons and jails called attention to the public health risks of mass incarceration – but didn’t stop lawmakers from doubling down on welfare cuts and “tough on crime” legislation. A piece from Slate compares US prisons’ slow and incomplete response to the pandemic with other countries around the world, arguing that our uniquely American “addiction” to incarceration – our inability to visualize public safety without prisons and jails – leads us to consistently prioritize punishment over public health. And an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times by San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin emphasizes the importance of decarceration and reform. This week, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors approved a plan to close the city’s notoriously unsafe county jail.
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: A piece from the New Republic focuses on the life and death of Darlene “Lulu” Benson-Seay, the first woman incarcerated by New York State to die of COVID-19. Like the “overwhelming majority of women ensnared in the criminal justice system, [Lulu] lived a life of enormous trauma – and resilience.” ProPublica and WBEZ go inside Chicago’s Cook County Jail, home to one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the country. A piece from the New York Times focuses on racial disparities in social-distance policing. Data released by the Brooklyn district attorney’s office shows that out of 40 people arrested for social-distancing violations over a two-week period, 35 were black, four were Hispanic and only one was white. This week, as balmy weather brought many New Yorkers out of doors, the violent arrests of several black and Hispanic residents were filmed and circulated online; at the same time, photos from more affluent neighborhoods showed police officers handing out masks to crowds of mostly white park-goers. And a piece from the Washington Post focuses on Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was fatally shot while jogging through a quiet neighborhood in southeastern Georgia. Although the shooting occurred in late February, no charges were filed against the suspects – two white men with connections to local law enforcement – until this week, when a graphic video showing the moments leading up to Arbery’s death went viral. The article outlines the details of the case and explains why mass outrage about the shooting has come so quickly – and from all corners of the political spectrum. A piece from the New York Times locates Arbery’s death in the larger context of the Black Lives Matter movement; and a piece from the Dispatch focuses on the racist legacy of citizen’s arrest and “stand your ground” laws.
In complex crime storytelling: A piece from the Texas Observer focuses on genetic genealogy. In recent years, police investigators in Texas and beyond have successfully utilized the technology – which relies on genetic information culled by consumer DNA companies – to crack decades-old cold cases and identify victims left nameless for years. The process is both highly effective and highly controversial, especially among privacy advocates, who worry about the implications of unrestricted police access to consumer DNA. And a piece from Sports Illustrated recounts the fascinating true story of “Murph the Surf.” In the early ‘60s, Murph was well-known as a Surfing Hall of Famer. In 1964, he orchestrated the biggest jewel heist in American history. In 1969, Murph was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Today, he is free and an ordained minister, traveling around the country to work with and mentor incarcerated people.
And in culture/true crime: A piece from the New Yorker looks back on James Baldwin’s foray into true crime. In 1985, Baldwin published “The Evidence of Things Not Seen,” a short book about the Atlanta child murders. Built from reporting Baldwin had done in Atlanta for Playboy, the book also drew on his lifetime of experience as a black man in America. The New Yorker calls “Things Not Seen” a “fascinating work of true crime,” one that “marshals the injustice of one set of cases not only… to resolve them but in order to make an argument about justice itself.” The Los Angeles Times reviews “Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind,” a new documentary from HBO. For nearly 40 years, rumors and conjecture about Wood’s mysterious death have continued to circulate in tabloids, true crime productions, and online. The documentary, co-produced by Wood’s daughter, attempts to redefine Wood’s legacy outside of her sensationalized death. And a new documentary from Frontline and the Marshall Project chronicles the lives of pregnant women behind bars. The film focuses on Alabama’s Julia Tutwiler Prison, the state’s only maximum-security prison for women, long considered one of the worst female prisons in the country.