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 focuses on crime reporting. In the midst of a volatile period in crime, with homicide rates up across the country, keeping track of trends has become especially important. But as it happens, this year’s national crime data release will be the last of its kind, as the FBI transitions to a new reporting system. The switch in data collection has been hailed as a “leap forward,” offering more insight into a wider array of crimes at both the national and local levels. But in the short term, the shift could hurt the public’s ability to evaluate key trends, posing a variety of risks at a time when reliable crime reporting may be particularly relevant. A piece from Time Magazine also centers on recent increases in crime – specifically, in racist violence against Asian Americans. Since the start of the pandemic last spring, Asian Americans have faced racially-motivated violence at a much higher rate than previous years. In 2020, the NYPD reported that hate crimes motivated by anti-Asian sentiment jumped nearly 2,000%. But Truthout reports that as Asian Americans fight to protect their communities, some have warned against turning to increased policing – especially in the wake of this summer’s national reckoning with systemic police brutality. The violence that Asian Americans experience, the piece argues, runs deeper than just hateful attitudes: “It is also a story of state violence, including police-perpetrated violence – a truth that has received even less public attention.” As journalist Sam Lew writes, “It is easy to demand convictions and harsh sentences. It is harder to address the root causes of racial violence and to commit to the real day-to-day work of collective healing.” And a piece from NBC News also highlights the tensions between increasing violence and overreliance on police. The piece focuses on Lansing, Michigan, where a recent surge in gun violence has driven homicides to a 30-year high. Last fall, the City Council rejected a proposal to cut Lansing’s police budget in half over five years, and instead endorsed hiring more social workers to accompany officers on calls. But activists have continued to press for budget cuts, arguing that “it isn’t police cutbacks that drive up crime, but neglect of social services and programs that create economic opportunities.” The split in Lansing reflects a divide across Michigan, and the United States, over police reform and whether police budgets should be slashed amidst a nationwide rise in violent crime.
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: A piece from the New York Times highlights the devastating impacts of the pandemic behind bars. A year into the pandemic, coronavirus case rates among incarcerated people are more than four times higher than those on the outside, while the death rate is more than twice as high. The virus has killed more than 2,600 prison and jail inmates and infected more than 515,000 others across the United States. But although many health experts, including the CDC, have recommended prioritizing incarcerated people for vaccination against COVID-19, a state-by-state patchwork of rules and regulations has left inmates with vastly different outlooks depending on where they live. In a piece for Elle Magazine, an inmate at the Central California Women’s Facility describes her experiences of COVID-19. “I know that I engineered my current circumstances by breaking the law,” she writes, “but nobody saw this pandemic coming. Being sentenced to years in prison is different than the very real possibility of death at the hands of neglectful and uncaring correctional institutions.” A piece from Vice News centers on the fight for compassionate release. At least 54 federal prisoners have died from COVID-19 after their compassionate release requests were denied or delayed without a final resolution. New data shows how a deluge of compassionate release requests during the pandemic overwhelmed the court system, leading to vulnerable people dying behind bars – even when they were eligible for freedom. And a piece from Big If True highlights another casualty of COVID-19: criminal court systems, many of which are experiencing pandemic-related case backlogs that prosecutors estimate could take years to overcome. Due to extended courthouse closures and suspended jury trials in many states, incarcerated defendants are spending longer in jail, while already-strained public defender programs are struggling under the added weight. “Right now, it’s like we’re emptying this ocean with a teaspoon,” one public defender said.
In complex crime storytelling: A piece from the Ringer explores the wild life of Nico Walker: war hero turned serial bank robber turned “one of the literary scene’s brightest new stars.” Walker first emerged on that scene in 2018, with the publication of his semi-autobiographical debut novel Cherry. The book, written while Walker was in prison, details a life story “as hard to believe as it is impossible to make up”: while serving in Iraq as a US Army medic, Walker developed a devastating case of PTSD; after returning stateside, he spiraled into heroin addiction, which he eventually funded by robbing banks. He was caught in 2012, sentenced to 11 years in federal prison, and released in the fall of 2019. Now, with a major motion picture adaption of Cherry in theaters and a second novel in the works, Walker is trying to prove that his breakout success wasn’t a fluke – “but first he has to adapt to life outside of a cell.” A piece from the Intercept by critic Matt Gallagher also focuses on “Cherry” and, more generally, Hollywood’s obsession with a certain kind of crime. In the film adaptation, as in the book, Walker is portrayed as a victim: “of society, of circumstance, of America.” Meanwhile, his victims are reduced to a mere afterthought. “For some offenses,” Gallagher writes, “we like to erase the humanity of the perpetrators. For others, we permit ourselves to erase their victims. The story of ‘Cherry,’ from crime to novel to movie, is the story of the money to be made in understanding which crimes are which.” And a piece from the Atlantic centers on the murder of Sarah Everard. On March 3 of this year, Everard was abducted while walking in her south London neighborhood; a week later, her body was found in the Kent woodlands, some 50 miles away. A police officer has been charged with her kidnapping and murder, sparking protests and provoking a national debate over how British society deals with male violence against women. But while this conversation is certainly well worth having, the piece argues, we must also consider “why this one case has attracted so much attention, to the exclusion of many others.”
In culture/true crime: New York Magazine profiles Jim and Tim Clemente, the duo behind Fox’s America’s Most Wanted reboot. Growing up in Queens in the late 1960s, the Clementes idolized the gruff, heroic cops they saw on TV. Both brothers joined the FBI before pivoting to Hollywood, where they founded a production company, XG, that has become “a force in the true-crime industrial complex at a time when viewers can’t seem to get enough of murder.” This week marks the launch of their highest-profile project to date: an arguably ill-timed reboot of Fox’s “fugitive-hunting juggernaut” America’s Most Wanted. A piece from the Marshall Project spotlights “the ingenuity of artists behind bars.” The piece centers on “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” an ongoing exhibition at New York City’s MoMA PS1. Featuring work by the currently and formerly incarcerated, the show “conveys the various ways that artists respond to prison, with its mix of limited materials and endless time.” And the New York Times highlights “Wild: Act 1,” a new dance film by the choreographer Jeremy McQueen. Inspired by the classic children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are,” the 50-minute film centers on a young Black boy in juvenile detention, using movement and his imagination to explore beyond the walls of his cell. An installment in a larger project, “Wild: Act 1” seeks to give voice to the experiences of young men caught in the criminal justice system.