This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: Pieces from Truthout and NBC center on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The bill, which passed in the House last week but faces Republican opposition in the Senate, would prohibit racial profiling by police, create new training programs for cops and make it easier to hold officers “accountable.” But while Democrats and some civil rights leaders have applauded the Justice in Policing Act, others say the bill does not go far enough. In the wake of George Floyd’s death, activists called for sweeping, transformational change: reducing, defunding, and ultimately eliminating police departments, while redirecting police funding to meet community needs. In contrast, the reform bill would give police more money, in the form of grants that that theoretically act as incentives to adopt modest reforms. Critics have pointed out that the bill named for George Floyd could not have even saved Floyd’s life. Other pieces focus on the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer now facing murder charges in Floyd’s death. Slate and USA Today report from Minneapolis, which is bracing for another public reckoning as Chauvin’s trial begins, while a piece from the New York Times goes inside the process of jury selection. Finally, a piece from New York Magazine highlights a promising experiment with police reform in Denver, Colorado. For the past six months, the city’s Support Team Assisted Response program, known as STAR, has been dispatching social workers instead of cops on nonemergency calls, with “astoundingly good” outcomes. Activists say programs like STAR are an important step toward reducing the role of police – and curbing police violence.
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: A piece from The Crime Report highlights the deadly impact of COVID-19 in carceral settings across the globe. This week, in an interview with UN News, Philipp Meissner, a prison reform expert at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime painted a drastic picture of the global state of prison systems, highlighting the pandemic’s “heavily felt” impact behind bars. Meissner reported that an estimated 527,000 prisoners in 122 countries have been infected with the virus, with nearly 4,000 fatalities. He noted that with limited testing capacity in many places around the world, there’s no question that the “actual number may be much higher.” The New York Times reports from New York City, where, a year into the pandemic, city jail populations have swelled to pre-COVID levels, stoking fears that an increase in infections could pose serious public health risks even beyond the jail walls. An interactive story from South Side Weekly goes inside the Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, Illinois. Of the 1,091 prisoners incarcerated there, 303 have tested positive for coronavirus, and at least 13 have died. In a series of handwritten letters, inmates at Stateville – incarcerated students in Northwestern’s Prison Education Program – describe their experiences of COVID-19 behind bars. And a piece from the Marshall Project highlights racial disparities in the juvenile justice system. During the pandemic’s early stages, thousands of young people were released from juvenile detention – so many that by late summer, fewer children were incarcerated in the US than at any point since at least the 1980s. But data shows that white youths were released at a far higher rate than their Black peers, leaving many juvenile jails filled almost entirely with young people of color. Experts say that racial inequality in youth detention, which has long been vast, is now wider than ever: “It’s fitting that in 2020, the year that juxtaposed COVID and racial justice protests, we saw this shrinking of the system — but also a resistance to doing so for young Black people.”
In complex crime storytelling: A piece from the New Yorker explores a series of mysterious attacks in the California wilderness. Malibu Creek State Park stretches along the western side of Malibu Canyon, spanning more than eight thousand scenic acres of meadows and oak savannas. Until recently, the park was known as an idyllic, safe, and family-friendly destination for a hike or weekend camping trip. Then, in 2017 and 2018, a series of unsolved shootings in and around the park left locals shocked and horrified, even as law-enforcement officials continued to insist that “things like this don’t happen here.” A piece from the New York Times highlights three exoneration stories out of Queens, New York. In December 1996, a shop owner and an off-duty police officer were killed in an armed robbery in the East Elmhurst neighborhood of Queens. The case touched off a ferocious manhunt, and within days, three men had been arrested. They were convicted in separate trials and sentenced to between 50 years and life in prison. But more than two decades later, the case has collapsed amid claims of prosecutorial misconduct, and all three men have been released. And BuzzFeed News delves deep into the world of the Oath Keepers. A far-right, anti-government militia group composed of current and former military, police, and first responders, Oath Keepers members are alleged to have played a key role in the Capitol insurrection. US prosecutors have repeatedly highlighted the influence of one man – referred to in court filings only as “Person One” – in shaping the events of Jan. 6. The piece retraces the story of “Person One,” AKA Oath Keepers founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes III: a “one-time Army paratrooper, disbarred Yale lawyer, constitutionalist, gun enthusiast, and far-right media star” turned armed insurrectionist.
In culture/true crime: A piece from the Washington Post centers on the George Floyd murder trial and the return of Court TV. Court TV, known in the 1990s for its “splashy courtroom square-offs,” has enlisted its entire editorial staff to help cover the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer now facing murder charges in Floyd’s death. The network reportedly hopes to make it “a kind of OJ Simpson event for the modern world — one in which a heavily publicized death leads not to water-cooler debates about guilt, innocence and ill-fitting gloves but a worldwide protest movement about racism, structural inequality and the rightful shape of police-community relations.” A piece from the New York Times highlights a new exhibition in Manhattan and “the great art behind Hunter S. Thompson’s run for sheriff.” “Freak Power” commemorates the “gonzo” journalist’s 1970 run for county sheriff in Colorado with a series of visually striking campaign posters, fusing “gut-punch electioneering (‘Sell Aspen or Save It’) with visceral imagery (a clenched fist set against a sheriff’s badge).” The show is open now at Poster House through Aug. 15. NPR reviews Last Call, a new true-crime book by reporter Elon Green. The book centers on the man dubbed the “Last Call Killer,” an elusive serial killer who preyed upon gay men in the early 1990s, haunting the once-safe havens of Manhattan piano bars. In works of true crime, “the killers often become the focus, the object of fascination”; but Last Call puts the victims first, exploring their complicated lives – the ones they led, and those they “wanted but couldn’t have” – and a forgotten era of New York City queer life. And a piece from The Ringer highlights two unconventional crime dramas: The Investigation, about the real-life 2017 murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall; and Clarice, a new TV interpretation of The Silence of the Lambs. Unlike other entries in the genre, the piece argues, these crime dramas are “uninterested in making their killers the star,” offering a “refreshing counterpoint” to the sensationalism that has dominated the true crime boom.