This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: Pieces from KQED and the Brennan Center focus on Prop. 25, California’s upcoming referendum to eliminate cash bail. Through Prop. 25, voters will decide whether to uphold a law known as SB-10, which would end cash bail in California, or to keep the current system as it is. The choice is more complicated than it might seem; while the elimination of cash bail – an unfair system that punishes the poor – is appealing, some criminal justice advocates argue that the alternative is even worse: if passed, SB-10 would exchange the current system for one that relies on racially biased risk assessment tools, gives judges nearly unlimited discretion to detain individuals pretrial, and increases funding for law enforcement. Politico Magazine highlights six cities where police reform will be on the ballot next month, from Los Angeles – where voters will weigh a proposal to divert approximately $350 million in city funding away from the police – to Akron, Ohio, where a proposed amendment to the city charter would require police footage to be made public for incidents involving use of force. If passed, these ballot measures could provide a potential model for legislation later and elsewhere, paving the way for bigger and broader change. And the Washington Post reports from Texas, where the “law and order” theme touted by Republicans has fallen surprisingly flat. Even in suburbs long considered GOP strongholds, where Republican candidates rail against “violent” protesters and warn of rising crime, voters aren’t buying it: “I am looking up and down my street, and I don’t see Antifa.”
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: As courts around the country begin to restart their criminal dockets, a piece from The Atlantic examines the many practical obstacles standing in their way. Each stage of the criminal legal process requires that people be together, inside, talking for long hours at a time; as courts attempt to navigate our new socially-distanced reality, advocates worry that the mechanisms they adopt to address public health concerns may conflict with, or impede, defendants’ core constitutional rights. Vice News reports from a “super-spreader jail” in Grady County, Oklahoma; while The 19th goes inside the COVID unit at the Central California Women’s Facility, the largest women’s prison in the world. And a piece from the New York Times focuses on the rural Mountain West, where, until recently, COVID-19 seemed like a distant threat. But now, the region is rapidly devolving into one of the most alarming hot spots in the country, with reports of new infections reaching record highs. Many of these cases have stemmed from local jails: confined, often crowded spaces, where inmates and staff are held in close proximity and people constantly filter in and out. In small, isolated towns that lack critical resources even in normal times, local officials are struggling to contain the virus’ spread.
In complex crime storytelling: USA Today recounts the rise and fall of Robert Chody, the sheriff of Williamson County, Texas. In 2001, Chody, then a rank-and-file cop, won $85 million on a Quick Pick lottery ticket. His winnings bankrolled a political career that would eventually lead him to the top law enforcement job in one of the most notoriously tough-on-crime counties in the state. As sheriff, Chody developed a local reputation for “heavy-handed” police work and a national following from his collaboration with the popular reality show “Live PD.” But when a violent incident with his deputies turned deadly, taking the life of 40-year-old Javier Ambler II, Chody’s star began to fade. The show has since been cancelled, and Chody now faces felony evidence tampering charges for his alleged role in the destruction of body camera footage of the incident. And a piece from the Washington Post focuses on the life and legacy of George Floyd. Beginning in antebellum North Carolina with Floyd’s enslaved great-great-grandfather, the piece traces his biography up to the moment he was killed, setting off a national reckoning over race and police brutality. An exhaustive reporting effort pieced together from more than 150 interviews, the piece examines Floyd’s life as one thoroughly shaped and constrained by the ongoing effects of systemic racism.
And in culture/true crime: A piece from The Atlantic explains “why British police shows are better”: slower, quieter, and more sensitive than American cop fare, without the gratuitous violence, Britain’s “tidy, ruminative detective series” offer a more humane, more nuanced depiction of law enforcement. After all, “a nation’s crime shows are bound to reflect the nation itself.” The Guardian highlights “Death Row Exonerees,” a new exhibition of work by the photographer Martin Schoeller. The show comprises ten different rooms at New York City’s Fotografiska museum, each featuring a different story of a death row exoneree. Through intimate close-up portraits and a series of short films, the survivors share their stories of being convicted and sentenced to death for crimes they didn’t commit. And “Solitary,” a finalist for the Texas Observer’s short-story contest, takes readers inside the life of a man held in isolated detention, the “prison within the prison.”