This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: Policing continued to dominate the news this week as calls for change gained traction. Reason reports that in New York, state legislators voted to repeal a notorious police secrecy law that has hidden misconduct records from the public for decades. The Houston Chronicle reports that Texas police officers will now be required to receive implicit bias training. And on Monday, Democrats in Congress unveiled sweeping legislation aimed at combatting excessive use of force and racial discrimination by police and making it easier to identify, track, and prosecute misconduct. The New York Times reports that the Justice in Policing Act would curtail protections that shield police officers accused of misconduct from being prosecuted and impose new restrictions on law enforcement officers to prevent them from using deadly force except as a last resort. Vox explains the specific policy interventions outlined in the bill.
But some say the proposed reforms do not go far enough. Many activists and organizers are calling on state and local governments to “defund” or dismantle police departments and adopt a nonviolent, community-oriented approach to public safety. A piece from The Atlantic highlights the need to rethink our criminal justice system as a whole. The New Republic focuses on the “rush to redefine ‘defund the police,’” a radical slogan rooted in the theory of prison and police abolition that has risen to mainstream prominence. A piece from Time focuses on divisions within Black Lives Matter: while some activists are pushing for reform, others are calling for broader and more structural change. And the Philadelphia Inquirer offers a successful model for “defunding the police” in the city of Camden, New Jersey, which in 2013 dismantled the city police in favor of a county-run force.
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: Slate examines the “toxic, co-dependent relationship” between prosecutors and police. More than just institutional allies in law enforcement, police and prosecutors are often partners in the police’s crimes. Police exert significant control over prosecutors in both formal and informal ways, from prosecutors relying on police testimony to win trials to police unions funding election campaigns. DAs, in turn, often decline to charge or prosecute cases of police misconduct. And the New York Times focuses on police unions. Over the past five years, as calls for reform have mounted, police unions have emerged as one of the most significant roadblocks to change. The greater the political pressure for reform, the more defiant the unions are in resisting it – with few city officials, including liberal leaders, able to overcome their opposition.
In complex crime storytelling:A piece from New York Magazine explores the origins of the “police riot.” Most recently, the term has been used in reference to police violence against protesters. Over the last two weeks, rioting police have driven vehicles into crowds, attacked elderly bystanders, and pepper-sprayed cooperative protesters – actions that not only don’t promote order, but that turn the concept of “peace officers” upside down. Some have found historical precedent in the violence surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention, where antiwar protesters were brutalized by Chicago police, inspiring the first generally-known use of the term. An essay from n+1 Magazine offers a first-person account of police violence and arrest from a protester in New York. And a piece from the Boston Review recounts the long history of calls to abolish the police. In recent weeks, calls for police and prison abolition have gained unprecedented traction. Though these ideas still seem radical, the premise and theory of abolition are not new. The movements to abolish prisons and abolish police have always been intertwined, and have played a prominent role in black freedom movements since the era of Jim Crow. Understanding the long history of abolitionist thought can help us to contextualize today’s calls for abolition, and to view both prisons and police as part of an interconnected, racialized system of punishment.
And in culture/true crime: Over the last two weeks, widespread protests against police brutality have fed a broader national debate over the role and scope of American law enforcement. One aspect of this debate is TV crime shows, which influence and inform many Americans’ views of law enforcement and which invariably depict police officers in a flattering, uncritical light. This week, the New York Times reported that “Cops” – the long-running reality series that followed police officers and sheriff’s deputies as they responded to calls – was canceled after 32 seasons on the air. A piece from The Marshall Project, from 2018, focuses on “Cops” as “the country’s most durable portrayal of American law enforcement,” from its rise to prominence as a pioneer of reality TV to the allegations of racism and classism that persistently plagued later seasons. A piece from the Los Angeles Times outlines the data on policing on TV. A recent study by the civil rights advocacy group Color of Change found that crime shows are overwhelming created and written by white people and rarely discuss or portray racism. These shows also serve to normalize misconduct and abuse: out of 453 wrongful actions committed by police and criminal justice professionals across 353 episodes of 26 different shows, only 13 – less than 4% – were shown as being investigated. Only one police officer was shown as being fired, convicted, or facing legal consequences. And a piece from the Washington Post focuses on more true-to-life portrayals of policing. While police officers are often glorified in movies and on TV, some shows have taken a more nuanced approach, challenging pop culture’s prevailing image of the hero cop.