This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: The New York Times reports that last week, in a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court rejected limits on life-in-prison terms for youth, reversing more than a decade of progress towards leniency for juvenile offenders. Over the past 16 years, the court, often led by Justice Anthony Kennedy, “methodically limited the availability of the harshest penalties for crimes committed by juveniles, first by striking down the juvenile death penalty and then by restricting sentences of life without the possibility of parole.” But Justice Kennedy retired in 2018, and the court, now dominated by six conservative members, “does not seem to have enthusiasm for continuing his project.” The ruling drew a caustic dissent from Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who accused the majority of “gutting” major precedents. But the Marshall Project reports that the reality may be more complicated: life without parole sentences for youth are concentrated in a minority of states and counties, and most states will likely continue to restrict them. But in states where judges do sentence teens to life without parole, experts predict that last week’s ruling will only widen existing disparities of race and geography. Judges who wanted to issue life without parole sentences were “waiting for permission to do what they want to do anyway,” said Ashley Nellis, a research analyst with the nonprofit Sentencing Project. “And now they have it.” And Mic interviews Tahanie Aboushi, one of eight candidates for Manhattan DA. Decarceration is central to Aboushi’s campaign: in a recent statement, she announced that under her administration, “the Manhattan DA’s Office will decline as many cases as possible, including charges resulting from poverty, mental illness, or substance use.” Aboushi’s aim to transform the DA office comes from her own experiences. Born into a Palestinian immigrant family, Aboushi says she “lived through the damage and destruction that this system can cause”: when Aboushi was 14, her father was sentenced to 22 years in prison, leaving her mother a single parent to their 10 kids. “I have dedicated my career to balancing the scales of justice,” Aboushi says, “because it’s personal to me.”
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: A piece from Slate centers on the fatal police shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. in North Carolina last week. Last Wednesday, Brown, an unarmed 42-year-old Black man, was shot and killed while apparently driving away from sheriff’s deputies who were trying to execute a drug-related search and arrest warrant. Now, law enforcement and elected officials in the town of Elizabeth City, NC, are following a familiar playbook for police departments that face calls for reform following high-profile killings of civilians: “close ranks, delay information, and then, when the release of damaging information is imminent, preemptively attempt to shut down community protests.” A piece from NBC News asks, “How many people can a police officer kill before they’re held accountable?”. Research has shown that most police officers never fire their weapons; but in other cases, officers have killed multiple civilians before facing consequences. In a review of records from eight law enforcement agencies across the US with higher-than-average rates of police killings, NBC identified more than 150 officers who fired weapons in two or more intentional shootings. The data show that in three cities – Mesa, AZ; Stockton, CA; and Spokane, WA – these officers were linked to more than half of police shootings between 2008 and 2018. Very rarely did these shootings result in criminal charges for the officers involved. A piece from the Washington Post highlights the challenge of “asking civilians to check police powers.” Across the US, more than 160 counties and municipalities have implemented some form of civilian oversight through review boards, inspectors general, and independent monitors. The issue has gained new traction as part of a push to overhaul policing in the United States following the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd last year. Those high-profile deaths, however, also reveal the limits of civilian oversight: In Louisville, the civilian board had no standing to investigate Taylor’s death; and in Minneapolis, civilian oversight entities had fielded 12 complaints of alleged misconduct about former officer Derek Chauvin before he killed George Floyd. A Post examination of civilian review boards shows how even “well-meaning reform attempts often end in failure and frustration”: across the country, civilian oversight has often been limited by design or even banned, with police executives and union officials fighting such efforts at every turn. The New Yorker reports from NYC, where, for generations, mayors have pledged to promote a “healthier partnership” between the city’s police and communities of color. And for decades, those partnerships have mostly failed – usually because the NYPD doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain. The problem, according to high-level officials, is that they “chose the wrong people for the right job.” And the New Republic reports from Florida, where, earlier this week, Republican state legislators enacted a sweeping “anti-riot” law. Among the many provisions contained in the so-called “Combatting Public Disorder Bill,” one in particular has received a fair amount of national attention, as it “seems to give Floridians permission to attack protesters with their cars.” While the law doesn’t exactly make it legal to run someone over, it does shield drivers from civil liability if they injure or kill protesters on Florida roads. Five other states have introduced similar bills this year, granting some form of immunity to people running into demonstrators. The piece outlines the twisted evolution of “the right to crash cars into people”: how the car “(or police cruiser, or truck, or SUV) has been enshrined into law as an instrument of state-sanctioned violence.”
In complex crime storytelling: A piece from the New York Times Magazine centers on “the tragedy of Harry Uzoka.” By 2018, 25-year-old Nigerian-British fashion model Harry Uzoka had become a “shining star.” “One of Britain’s most adored male models,” he had walked in London Fashion Week, appeared in magazines and on billboards around the world, paving his own path to success in an industry from which Black men like him had long been excluded. But Uzoka’s rise to stardom met an abrupt and tragic end: on a clear winter night in 2018, Uzoka was killed during a violent confrontation with another rising Black male model. In the wake of Uzoka’s death, his family, friends, and much of the fashion industry have been left shocked and devastated, questioning the motives behind this senseless crime – and whether Uzoka’s murder might have been prevented. A piece from GQ goes behind the bars of the Réau penitentiary, a notorious maximum-security prison on the outskirts of Paris, with master criminal Rédoine Faïd, “the world’s greatest jailbreak artist.” Faïd first rose to prominence in the 1990s, as the architect of a “flurry of dazzling heists and blockbuster robberies” that targeted banks, jewelry stores, and armored cars. He became more infamous still in 2013, when he used smuggled explosives to blast out of the prison where he’d been serving time. An obsessive cinephile, Faïd “envisioned himself from a young age as the protagonist of his own movie”; his greatest crimes were laced with tributes: to Point Break, Heat, and Reservoir Dogs. Even now, from Réau’s isolation ward, Faïd “sees no reason why he can’t escape the truth of his past by authoring a different kind of movie for his future.” And a piece from Outside Magazine tackles the case of Paul Fugate, the “ranger who was lost and never found.” Around 2 PM on the afternoon of January 13, 1980, Paul – a naturalist at southeastern Arizona’s Chiricahua National Monument – left the visitor center where he worked, announcing that he was “going to do a trail.” He was never seen again. More than four decades later, Paul remains the only Park Service ranger ever to go missing and never be accounted for; his unsolved disappearance has “haunted everyone it’s touched,” from his wife, Dody, to the investigators still holding out hope he might be found.
In culture/true crime: The New York Times highlights a slate of new crime fiction, from Amy Suiter Clarke’s Girl, 11 – a “propulsive” debut novel about a true-crime podcast host and a “cold case turned deadly” – to Jonathan Ames’ A Man Named Doll, the first in a dark new private detective series and a “tightly coiled double helix of offbeat humor and unflinching violence.” i-D reviews The Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness, a new true-crime series from Netflix about the “Wikipedia serial killer rabbit hole that is the notorious Sons of Sam case.” The four-part series delves deep into the crimes of infamous serial killer David Berkowitz, AKA the “Son of Sam,” questioning whether, more than four decades later, “the case is truly solved.” And The Nation interviews acclaimed novelist and essayist John Edgar Wideman, “one of the greatest living Black writers of the 20th and 21st centuries.” Wideman’s writing “pairs a close attention to the life of the mind with an unflinching eye to the horrors of racism and poverty”; blending speculative fiction with elements of memoir, he has captured the 1985 MOVE bombing, the lynching of Emmett Till, and the incarceration of his own brother and son. Speaking with The Nation, Wideman discusses his new short-story collection, You Made Me Love You; the long arc of his career; and his thoughts on prisons, abolition, and reform.