This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: New York Magazine examines the “historical irony” of a Biden-Harris ticket during a criminal-justice reckoning. With the inequities of prisons and policing under a national spotlight, both Biden and Harris have been criticized by progressives for their punitive records on criminal justice. But Biden’s ascension to the nomination, and his choice of running mate, suggest that, rather than being a liability for which candidates are punished, these records have “merely nudged them to make moderate entreaties in exchange for more influence than ever before.” A piece from The Intercept focuses on Atlanta, where the complexities of race, class, and generational divides have complicated the police-reform debate. Even within the city’s Black community, the issue is highly polarizing and politically charged, and there is no consensus about what to do. A piece from The New Yorker also focuses on race and police reform, highlighting generations of “tough on crime” policymaking that has prioritized police budgets over the social programs and public services that are essential to both the fulfillment of racial justice and the elimination of violent crime. And a piece from The Atlantic examines this “politics of punishment” in the context of COVID-19. Even as the pandemic has disrupted almost every facet of American life, criminal courts have continued the routine processing and prosecution of petty misdemeanor crimes, putting the lives of attorneys, court staff, and defendants alike at risk.
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: New York Magazine profiles Ed Mullins, president of New York City’s Sergeants Benevolent Association and the face of NYPD opposition to police reform. In his two decades as president of the SBA, Mullins has staunchly resisted every attempt, no matter how modest, to curb police brutality and corruption: “If the pace of police reform seems glacial, even in the wake of the global uprisings over the death of George Floyd, that’s because Mullins has helped push the outer edge of the debate so far to the right that even the smallest compromise seems unthinkable.” A piece from the Washington Post focuses on police recruitment ads, offering a window into both how police attract new officers and how they see their role in the community. In some ads, officers are shown speaking with elderly neighbors or playing basketball with kids; but more often, they are seen in action, aiming and shooting weapons or chasing down a fleeing suspect. And a piece from the New York Times centers on Gainesville, Florida police officer Bobby White. In 2016, White gained national prominence after a video of him shooting hoops with local teenagers went viral – a rare moment of hope at a time when viral videos of police brutality were becoming the norm. Nicknamed “Basketball Cop,” White became a local celebrity and the face of good neighborhood policing in Gainesville. But another video, captured two years earlier and posted to Facebook in the wake of George Floyd’s death, tells a very different story.
In complex crime storytelling: A piece from Vox focuses on the case of Robert Nichols, who, in 1965, mysteriously disappeared from his small-town midwestern life. His family heard nothing from or about him until 2002, when US marshals appeared on their doorstep to tell them Nichols’s body had been found. For nearly 40 years, he had been living in a different city under a different name; after his death, genetic genealogists, working with law enforcement, had uncovered his true identity. Because of its strangeness, the case made headlines and attracted attention from amateur “web sleuths,” who have tried to connect Nichols to various cold cases. But more likely, Nichols just hadn’t wanted to be found. The piece raises complex ethical questions about the unregulated “Wild West” of genetic genealogy: When does the “right to know” trump the right to anonymity? “Who has the right to tell our ancestors’ stories, and who has the right to simply disappear?” And a piece from the New York Times focuses on the prison inmates “learning magic by mail.” In letters with fellow inmates and magicians on the outside, they exchange step-by-step diagrams of sleight-of-hand tricks, or tips for making props with limited materials: poker chips made from glue and toilet paper; milk cartons cut into a deck of cards.
And in culture/true crime: A piece from The Atlantic reflects on the noir tradition and “the end of the fictional cop.” While film and TV have helped naturalize police violence, the piece argues, noir is “a way out,” offering a model for telling complex stories of danger and morality without centering badges and guns. And Mother Jones highlights “Traplanta,” a “living portfolio of photographs” that capture the stark realities of Atlanta’s drug trade, from glimpses of day-glo strip clubs and diamond-encrusted grills to resolutely matter-of-fact portraits of neighborhood drug corners. The anonymous photographer behind the project describes his work as “Southern vernacular, urban reportage, fine art journalism.”