This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: As we close out 2020, a piece from Politico looks to the year ahead in criminal justice reform. In November, voters turned out in record numbers to demand sweeping changes of the American justice system, from drug legalization to defunding police. As cities and states across the country look to translate these proposals into policy, the piece outlines some of the legal and political roadblocks they may face along the way. A piece from Mother Jones focuses on Los Angeles, where the battle over criminal justice reform is already well underway. In his first few weeks as DA, George Gascón has already brought dramatic change to the country’s largest prosecutor’s office, announcing in a series of special directives that LA County prosecutors will no longer seek cash bail, sentencing enhancements, or capital punishment. But not everyone is on board with Gascón’s progressive agenda, which has run into opposition from tough-on-crime judges and law enforcement. The pushback starts in his own office: Courthouse News reports that on Wednesday, the Los Angeles Association of Deputy District Attorneys filed a lawsuit against Gascón, seeking to block his ban on sentencing enhancements. And the New York Times reports from Louisville, Kentucky, where, more than nine months after Breonna Taylor’s death, the police department now faces a critical transition. In October, veteran officer Yvette Gentry was brought out of retirement to lead the department through the end of the year, with a promise to mend its strained relationships with the city’s Black and Latino communities. But now, with just days left in her appointment, no successor has been named, and it remains to be seen whether one of America’s most troubled police forces can win back residents’ trust.
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: A piece from ProPublica goes inside Trump and Barr’s “last-minute killing spree.” A review of internal government records found that in its rush to execute federal prisoners during its final days in power, the Trump administration has “trampled over an array of barriers, both legal and practical,” with false or incomplete justifications, private executioners paid in cash, and killings carried out in the middle of the night. And a piece from Mother Jones also highlights the injustice of Trump’s federal execution spree. Last week, the White House announced that the president had pardoned more than a dozen people, including two who pleaded guilty in the special counsel’s Russia inquiry, four Blackwater guards convicted in connection with the killing of Iraqi civilians, and three corrupt former Republican members of Congress. Meanwhile, the administration has scheduled three more federal executions for the first weeks of 2021; “while Trump’s well-connected and wealthy allies will spend the holiday season celebrating their clean slates, three people on federal death row will spend the season begging for mercy from a president who plans to execute them in the new year.”
In complex crime storytelling: A piece from The Atlantic highlights “an alternative to police that police can get behind.” For more than 30 years, the “leafy college town” of Eugene, Oregon has been home to Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets, AKA CAHOOTS, a crisis-response program designed to help the city’s most vulnerable citizens in ways police cannot. The program is operated by a community health clinic, funded through the police department, and staffed by unarmed outreach workers and medics trained in crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques. Now, as cities around the country seek to reduce and reform their own police departments, many are looking to Eugene as a model for success. A piece from The Intercept centers on Fate Winslow, a Louisiana man who was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole after selling an undercover officer $20 worth of marijuana in 2008. For most of his sentence, Winslow’s chances of getting out were virtually nil. But last week, after 12 years in prison – a period that saw more than a dozen states around the country legalize recreational marijuana – a series of unexpected twists and significant changes in the criminal justice system finally led to his release. And the Texas Observer interviews crime reporter Pamela Colloff. For her story “False Witness,” published last year by ProPublica and the New York Times Magazine, Colloff followed a notorious jailhouse snitch deep into one of the ugliest parts of the Texas criminal justice system. She discusses the process of reporting and writing the story, covering the crime beat, and how one man’s turn as a repeat jailhouse informant sent dozens of innocent people to jail and death row.
In culture/true crime: A piece from The Atlantic asks, “How will we remember the protests?”. 2020’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations, arguably the largest protest movement in the country’s history, have been captured in countless photographs, from images of law-enforcement officers assaulting demonstrators to photos of protesters dancing and singing together in the street. The piece explores the power of photography as a tool for documenting social-justice movements – and the importance of images in defining and preserving a movement’s legacy. Decider highlights Cops and Robbers, Netflix’s “must-see” animated short about racial injustice. More than 30 artists and animators contributed to the film, which derives from a spoken-word poem written by Timothy Ware-Hill in response to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. With Ware-Hill rhyming in voiceover against a patchwork of different visual styles and textures, Cops and Robbers is a “chorus of raw feeling – rage and frustration and grief.” And the Financial Times reviews Live From The Prison Nation, the debut album by trumpeter Alonzo Demetrius. Sampling speeches by political activists such as Angela Davis and Mumia Abu-Jamal, the album represents Demetrius’ personal form of protest against police brutality, systemic racism, and the prison-industrial complex.