This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: A story from Reuters examines rising crime rates and the future of police reform. Last summer, as protests over police brutality swept across the US, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser joined thousands of demonstrators on the street she renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza, shouting the movement’s adopted slogan, “Defund the police!”. Earlier this year, Bowser, a Democrat, proposed cutting the city’s police budget and redirecting money into social services. But last month, she retreated, asking the City Council for $11 million to hire 170 new police officers after a string of shootings in DC. Amid the “deadliest crime wave in two decades,” Bowser and many other Democratic city leaders are now backtracking, distancing themselves from the politics of “defund” as they scramble to boost police budgets and put more officers on the streets. And The Trace reports from Birmingham, Alabama, where a progressive mayor is now caught between police reform and rising violent crime. Randall Woodfin, a young, progressive Black reformer, was elected in 2017, on promises to hold police accountable, invest in social justice programs, and “radically rethink” criminal justice. Now, facing a reelection challenge and with gun violence spiking in his city, Woodfin is stuck between community leaders calling for more police and activists who say the time has come for a different approach.
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: A piece from the New Republic examines the new “crime wave” panic and the “long shadow” of America’s Most Wanted host John Walsh. Through the ‘90s and early ‘00s, America’s Most Wanted, with its “grim, gritty tone and dramatic reenactments of violent acts,” sought to “induce fear in the American public,” distorting their perceptions of danger and crime. Today, the piece argues, with a reboot of the series now airing on Fox, and with America in the throes of another crime panic, we are still very much living in the world John Walsh helped build: one in which exaggerated, sensationalized fears of violent crime fuel endless calls for more policing. CBS News goes “behind police leaders’ claims” that criminal justice reform is responsible for the recent surge in violence. As the number of homicides continues to rise in major US cities, police leaders are targeting efforts at bail reform as a contributing cause. But data shows that while any number of factors might explain the recent rise in violent crime, the elimination of cash bail is not among them. A piece from the Atlantic, published last June, examines the “overlooked role of guns in the police-reform debate”; and the Marshall Project reports from Kentucky, where, as in much of rural America, fatal police shootings continue to occur at high rates, without the attention – or protests – that urban deaths have drawn.
In complex crime storytelling: A piece from ESPN explores a mysterious disappearance and a four-decade search for answers. One night in July 1979, Dolores Wulff, a beloved mother of four, vanished from the family’s home in rural Woodland, CA. Her children suspected their father, Carl, of murdering her, but he never confessed to the crime. The case was eventually dismissed, and, after years of their own searching, the family largely gave up on locating Dolores or confirming the full truth of what had happened to her. Then, last October, 41 years after Dolores’s disappearance, DNA testing finally solved the family’s mystery. And a piece from New York Magazine dives deep into the mysterious case of the “spine collector.” For years, a mysterious figure somewhere in the publishing world has been stealing book manuscripts before their release. In an industry based on trust and relationships, this high-risk, low-reward “crime spree” has sown chaos and growing paranoia. Even after years of digging, the thief’s true identity – and his motivations – remain a mystery: “Is it espionage? Revenge? Or a complete waste of time?”
In culture/true crime: A piece from the New Yorker captures “a fight to expose the hidden human costs” of mass incarceration. In 2018, Loyola University law professor Andrea Armstrong set out to investigate a spate of prison deaths in her home state of Louisiana, which has both the highest per-capita incarceration rate and the highest in-custody mortality rate in the country. Frustrated by bureaucratic opacity and a lack of public data, Armstrong decided to create her own, painstakingly documenting, with the help of her dogged law students, every jail and prison death across the state. And NPR highlights Chasing Me To My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir Of The Jim Crow South, a new autobiography by the late Winfred Rembert. In 1965, at age 19, Rembert was arrested at a civil rights demonstration in his hometown of Cuthbert, GA. He would spend the next seven years rotating through Georgia prisons, working on chain gangs. It was there, in prison, that Rembert learned to work with leather, the medium he would later choose to depict scenes of life in the rural Jim Crow south. A new book, written with author Erin Kelly, captures Rembert’s tumultuous early life, his incarceration, and his reckoning with trauma through his art.