This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: A piece from ProPublica asks what Philadelphia can teach us about the US “homicide surge.” There are many explanations, reports staff writer Alec MacGillis, for the rise in killings in US cities, including both the pandemic and the choices made in response. In Philadelphia, where the homicide rate recently hit an all-time high, the causes – and the human costs – are particularly stark. Politico Magazine reports from Ann Arbor, Michigan, the “liberal town putting mental illness at the center of police reform.” Fed up with high incarceration rates fueled by arrests for low-level crimes, and swamped by the number of people with mental illness cycling through the county jail, local officials are considering a new approach: sending unarmed first responders out on certain 911 calls, a plan they hope can disrupt the cycle of “arrest, jail, repeat.” And a series of editorials from USA Today outline “five ways to reform policing,” from ending no-knock warrants and so-called “officers’ bill of rights” to fixing qualified immunity.
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: In a piece for the New York Times, columnist Maureen Dowd asks, “Why do Republicans hate cops?”. Last week, four Capitol Police officers appeared before Congress to testify to the “brutal violence, racism, and hostility they suffered” at the hands of pro-Trump rioters on January 6. But even as right-wing commentators like Laura Ingraham dismissed the officers’ testimony as “political theater,” four House Republicans turned up at a Washington jail to “shine a light on the plight of suspects detained in the Jan. 6 insurrection,” with one even hailing them as “political prisoners.” Since when, Dowd asks, “do Republicans care more about criminals in jail than the cops who put them there?” Her answer: “since Donald Trump.” And a story from the Washington Post also centers on Trump’s “big lie” and the Republicans seeking to rewrite the story of the Capitol insurrection. In the months since January 6, Trump and his allies have “waged a fevered campaign to rewrite the narrative of one of the darkest days in the nation’s history.” At the center of this effort is Ashli Babbitt, the Trump-embraced Capitol rioter turned martyr for the cause.
In complex crime storytelling: New York Magazine reports from San Francisco, where everyone, it seems, has something to say about progressive DA Chesa Boudin. Boudin was elected in 2019 on promises to fight mass incarceration, decriminalize poverty, and hold police accountable – an embodiment of the “surging progressive will” to uproot systemic racism from the criminal justice system. By the end of last summer, though, another national mood was settling in, one that now threatens a premature end to Boudin’s term: the fear of rising violent crime. And a piece from Truly*Adventurous explores a real-life murder mystery in a quaint New England town. Late one night in May of 1940, a respected professor was shot dead through the front window of his Victorian-style mansion in Westfield, MA. The case remains the only unsolved murder in the history of Westfield –and is only now, decades later, finally on the cusp of a solution.
In culture/true crime: The Atlantic reviews Stillwater, a new true-crime-adjacent drama from Spotlight director Tom McCarthy. The film stars Matt Damon as a “roughneck Oklahoma dad” whose daughter is imprisoned in France after being found guilty of murdering her roommate. This premise bears more than a passing resemblance to – and, in McCarthy’s own words, was “directly inspired by” – the real-life story of Amanda Knox, who was wrongly convicted of a similar crime in Italy in 2009. In a separate piece for the Atlantic, Amanda reflects on her own experiences as an unwitting public figure, on toeing the thin line between art and exploitation, and on what it means to own one’s story and one’s life.