This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: WNYC’s The Takeaway podcast offers a moderated discussion between five prominent voices in law enforcement, advocacy, and academia, tackling the current policing crisis, pathways to reform, and the future of American law enforcement. In a piece for the New York Times, a Black veteran police officer outlines a modest proposal: “Defund the police. But then re-fund them, better.” And a piece from the San Jose Mercury News focuses on the Bay Area, offering a case study for two different approaches to reform. Last week, the Berkeley City Council approved a sweeping package of police reforms, including a 12% cut to the city’s police budget as well as a first-in-the-nation proposal to shift traffic enforcement away from the police. Meanwhile, in nearby San Jose, officials have taken a more measured approach, pushing to overhaul disciplinary procedures and increase accountability without reducing the police department’s size or scope. The two cities illustrate the quandary faced by progressive-leaning local governments in the Bay Area and beyond: “Do they seek to make improvements while keeping the institution of law enforcement intact? Or do they heed activists’ calls to revolutionize policing altogether?”
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: This week, federal law enforcement officers – dressed in head-to-toe camouflage, armed with tear gas and pepper spray, and driving unmarked vans – stormed the city of Portland, Oregon, where protesters have demonstrated every day for nearly two months straight in response to the murder of George Floyd. Oregon Public Broadcasting sketches out a timeline of the events. Federal agents first appeared in Portland in late June, the same day President Trump signed an executive order to protect statues and monuments and to combat what he described as “criminal violence” arising from the protests. In response to the order, the Department of Homeland Security dispatched officers to Portland – which DHS Secretary Chad Wolf described as a “city under siege” – ostensibly to protect federal property and restore public safety. Over the next two weeks, however, federal officers increasingly became the occupying force. A piece from The Bulwark outlines everything we know – and don’t know – about Portland and the DHS, while a piece from The Nation focuses on Trump’s “law and order” bluster as a tactic in his increasingly desperate reelection campaign. The New York Times examines how Trump’s use of federal forces in American cities differs from past presidents; and the Washington Post explores the legal backing for the federal crackdown in Portland, arguing that “the scandal isn’t what’s illegal, the scandal is what’s legal.”
In complex crime storytelling: A piece from The Atlantic highlights the promise – and the perils – of restorative justice. The story centers on the Lileses, a Jacksonville, Florida family whose matriarch, Debbie Liles, was murdered in 2017. After Debbie’s death, the grieving Lileses made a landmark deal with prosecutors and the murder defendant in her case: in exchange for a meeting with the murderer, where he would answer all their questions about what had happened and why, he would be spared the death penalty – but only if the Lileses felt satisfied that he had told the truth. This arrangement was essentially unprecedented in the history of homicide prosecutions in the United States; although at least 35 states have tried various forms of restorative justice, the practice is very rarely used for violent crimes. Through the lens of one family’s story, the piece asks how restorative justice can help bring healing for the victims of violent crimes, their families, and the perpetrators themselves – and how, when the process goes wrong, restorative justice can sometimes compound the hurt of the original crime. And a piece from GQ focuses on the case of Timothy Goggins, the victim of a brutal lynching in Georgia in 1983. The piece outlines the details of the crime, his family’s struggle for justice in the face of indifferent local police, and how, after more than 30 years, the cold case of Timothy’s murder was finally solved.
And in culture/true crime: Over the last few months, as calls to “defund the police” have gone mainstream, Hollywood has faced its own reckoning over the “copaganda” that heroizes police officers in movies and on TV. A piece from Time extends this debate to superheroes, the most popular characters in film, who “decide the parameters of justice and often enact them with violence.” And a piece from New York Magazine questions why there are so few plays about cops.