This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: A piece from the New Republic asks, “Can criminal justice reform survive a wave of violent crime?”. Even as the pandemic lockdown helped push down many crimes, last year saw an unprecedented spike in homicides nationwide. How to stop this wave of violence, the piece argues, is thus “one of the most important policy questions for 2021”; but asking it, at a moment when “conventional responses to crime face more intense criticism than any time since the civil rights movements of the 1960s,” has “rarely felt more fraught.” The New York Times reports from Los Angeles, where progressive DA George Gascón, who was “propelled into office by grass-roots activists in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd,” is already facing intense pushback in enacting the sorts of policies demanded by protesters last year. Amid a nationwide rise in gun violence and homicides, at a time when Republicans are increasingly trying to portray Democrats as “soft on crime,” the backlash – in one of America’s “most liberal cities” – offers a case study in the challenges facing progressive justice reform. And Mother Jones reports that this week, President Biden unveiled a multifaceted plan to curb gun violence in the US, promising to crack down on firearms dealers, expand community-based programs, and work to provide jobs and housing for formerly incarcerated people. But despite the announcement’s progressive tilt, it also makes clear that Biden wants to increase funds for the police: to “help address violent crime,” the plan notes, the Treasury Department allows for the $350 billion in state and local funding in the American Rescue Plan to be used on cops. While activists have praised the community-based aspects of the plan, some have also expressed concern that adding “more police officers on the beat” will do more harm than good. Historically, tough-on-crime policies, often framed as a solution to rising violence, have instead given rise to mass incarceration and, in particular, the increasing surveillance and criminalization of communities of color. “Moments like these have fueled our nation’s mass incarceration crisis,” writes Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU’s Justice Division. “This time around, we should be guided by evidence of what works, and not let the politics of fear drive our nation’s criminal justice policies.”
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: A piece for the New Republic by Melissa Gira Grant asks, “Who are the police protecting and serving at Pride?”. Last month, the Heritage of Pride, the organization that produces official Pride events in New York City, announced that police contingents would be banned from the annual parade until 2025. Jumping into the debate, the New York Times deemed the move a “misstep,” a somehow inappropriate “politicized response.” Grant pushes back on this assertion, writing, “Police seize power in our political imaginations, too. Of course they want to be at Pride. It’s not a sign of progress. And accepting that should lead us to a more honest and important question: Rather than debate the presence of police at Pride, we can ask, who does it serve to have police at Pride?”. And a piece from the Biloxi Sun Herald revisits the police killing of a Black veteran in Gulfport, Mississippi. On the night of February 1, 2020, in a quiet neighborhood a few blocks from the beach, Leonard Parker Jr. – a Black father of six and 22-year Army veteran – died after being shot in the face by a Gulfport, MS police officer. Since then, the Gulfport Police Department has only released three sentences about what happened that night. Now, more than a year after Leonard’s death, his family is still waiting for answers.
In complex crime storytelling: Last week, journalist Janet Malcolm, a longtime staff writer for the New Yorker known for her “piercing judgements, her novel-like nonfiction and provocative moral certainty,” died at 86. Malcolm’s best-known and most influential work was “The Journalist and the Murderer,” published as a two-part essay in the New Yorker in 1989 and as a book the following year. The piece centers on the relationship between author Joe McGinniss and Jeffrey MacDonald, a former doctor who was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and two daughters in 1979. In it, Malcolm castigates McGinniss for “pretending to believe in Dr. MacDonald’s innocence long after he was convinced of his guilt” in order to gain access to his story, opening with the arresting thesis: “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.” Roundly criticized at the time of publication, the piece has since come to be regarded as a classic, her once controversial theory now “received wisdom.”
In culture/true crime: A piece from NPR examines the role of TV dramas in informing – and misinforming – popular perceptions of the War on Drugs. A piece from the LA Review of Books tackles pop culture’s true-crime bubble and the “genrefication” of tragedy; while i-D explores “the strange allure of true crime makeup videos.” And, in a piece for the LA Times, crime reporter Nicole Santa Cruz recounts her experiences covering hundreds of homicides: “Perhaps the most startling lesson from this reporting was not seeing how people mourn the dead, but how they carry on with life.”