This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: A piece from the New York Times asks, “Can prosecutors be taught to avoid jail sentences?” In the last few years, at least 60 district attorneys have come to see incarceration as “destructive, racist, expensive, and ineffective.” But as they work to reform the criminal justice system from the inside, progressive prosecutors are often met with resistance – starting with their own staffs. In a piece for Politico Magazine, five Black female prosecutors – including St. Louis, MO circuit attorney Kim Gardner and Cook County, IL state’s attorney Kim Foxx – offer 11 ideas for how to make their profession “part of the solution,” from holding police accountable by pursuing criminal charges against officers accused of misconduct to supporting community-based restorative justice and diversion programs. Another piece from the New York Times focuses on Mike Schmidt, Portland’s newly-elected progressive prosecutor, whose decision to focus on only the most serious protest crimes – and to dismiss hundreds of low-level charges related to the protests – has infuriated some law enforcement officials. And NBC News highlights a slate of proposed reform bills in California that could permanently change the face of law enforcement in the nation’s most populous state.
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: Slate outlines everything we know about the shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man who was shot seven times in the back by a white Kenosha, Wisconsin police officer. A piece from The Atlantic also focuses on Jacob Blake, the first high-profile shooting of a Black man by police since massive Black Lives Matter protests erupted earlier this summer. Though the size and scope of the protests were unprecedented, they have not brought serious changes in how American policing works, with reforms stalled in state legislatures and on Capitol Hill. The shooting of Jacob Blake, the piece argues, is a wake-up call: even as the national conversation moves on from police violence, the shootings themselves – “at once freshly horrifying and achingly familiar” – continue. A piece from the New Republic outlines Kenosha, Wisconsin’s history of police brutality, and of halting attempts at police reform. Six years ago, the city made national headlines for a case that became the impetus for groundbreaking reforms concerning the use of deadly force. But those reforms were incremental and limited in scope, narrowly focused on making changes to how law enforcement investigates its own. The shooting of Jacob Blake, the piece argues, is less a failure of reform than evidence of what a reform really does: “It makes some changes, but it keeps in place law enforcement’s most central and lethal power.” And a Reuters investigation focuses on qualified immunity, revealing wide regional disparities in how and when the doctrine is applied. In a review of 529 cases since 2005, Reuters found that both trial judges and federal appeals court judges in some jurisdictions were much more inclined than others to accept qualified immunity as a defense to civil lawsuits brought by victims of police brutality. In a direct comparison between Texas and California, the two most populous states, judges in Texas granted immunity to police at nearly twice the rate of California judges – 59% of cases, compared to 34%.
In complex crime storytelling: A piece for Vanity Fair by Ta-Nehisi Coates focuses on Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old emergency room technician who was shot and killed in her own home by Louisville, Kentucky police earlier this year. Through a series of interviews with Breonna’s mother, Tamika Palmer, Coates paints a picture of a “full, loving life taken too soon.” A piece from the Washington Post centers on the Washington Highlands neighborhood of Washington, DC, a notoriously dangerous community with a history of gang-related gun violence. As of this week, the neighborhood has gone 100 consecutive days without a shooting, thanks to a gang truce brokered over Zoom with the help of local “violence interrupters.” And, in a piece for the Columbia Journalism Review, a beat reporter discusses the work of telling stories about crime, highlighting the ways in which even the most well-intentioned journalists can become “mouthpieces for authority.”
And in culture/true crime: A piece from Vanity Fair examines the BLM movement in Minneapolis through the lens of its street art: the murals, posters, and spray-painted tags that have sprouted on walls and boarded-up storefronts across the city since the protests began. The Guardian reviews “The Prison Within,” a new documentary about restorative justice. The film explores a program at San Quentin that pairs inmates with a “surrogate victim” – a person who has been hurt by a similar crime. In emotional, unguarded conversations, the two share their experiences and find common ground, allowing both offenders and victims to process and heal from trauma. And the New York Review of Books interviews Jerry Mitchell, the fearless investigative journalist whose work helped solve some of the most notorious racial crimes of the twentieth century. Mitchell discusses his career path, his journalistic process, and parallels between the civil rights-era murders he worked to solve and contemporary news events.