This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: The LA Times reports from California, where old “soft-on-crime” lies are again on display in the fight to recall Gov. Gavin Newsome: “merely the newest wrapper for some of the same stale junk food that Californians have been offered by criminal justice reform opponents.” A piece from the Trace highlights “the problems with Chicago’s gang-centric narrative of gun violence.” Across the country, gangs have once again become a target for politicians and police navigating a resurgence of violent crime during the pandemic. New York is promoting gang takedowns as a cure, despite research showing their ineffectiveness. In Chicago, city officials have repeatedly blamed gang activity for driving the recent increase in shootings; but closer analysis shows that the police department’s own data does not back up its leaders’ claims. And while officials have consistently used gangs as a scapegoat, many on the ground say they “haven’t done much to change the reason a young person in Chicago might join one. They sometimes miss it entirely.” A piece from Jacobin explores alternative answers to the problem of gun violence; and Bloomberg CityLab reports from Philadelphia, where an unconventional solution – housing repairs – has proven effective in combatting rising crime. In the late ‘90s, Philadelphia launched a program to “breathe new life” into the city’s aging neighborhoods, offering low-income, primarily Black and Latino homeowners grants of up to $20,000 for structural repairs. According to a new study published in the research journal JAMA, these grants had an incidental side effect: blocks where homes were repaired experienced 22% less crime overall than they likely would have if not for the repairs. As major US cities explore criminal justice reform amid a spike in homicides, the study “offers insight into the kinds of investments that might help with crime rates — aside from more money for police.”
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: A piece from HuffPost explores the past, present, and future of the pandemic in US prisons and jails. Since its onset, at least 414,000 people incarcerated in US prisons have contracted COVID-19, and more than 2,500 have died. While these official estimates are almost surely undercounts, we do know that the rate of infection inside prisons in the first year of the pandemic was more than three times higher than that on the outside. Now, with the more easily transmissible Delta variant spreading across the US, advocates fear the prison system is ill-prepared for another wave of outbreaks. Most US prisons remain dangerously overcrowded, and, while a majority of incarcerated people in the US have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, vaccination rates are much lower among prison staff, who enter and exit detention facilities each day, making them the most likely to inadvertently spread the virus. As the fall flu season approaches and Delta continues to surge, advocates worry that time is quickly running out to protect vulnerable people inside prisons and jails. “There is still an opportunity to mitigate the effects of Delta and the other variants that are going to siege correctional facilities,” says Forrest Behne, a policy analyst with the COVID Prison Project. “And the answer is vaccination and decarceration.”
In complex crime storytelling: New York Magazine profiles Curtis Sliwa, founder of the ‘70s-era vigilante crime-fighting group the Guardian Angels. In the late ‘70s and ‘80s, with crime in New York City surging to “levels never seen before,” Sliwa’s patrolling Angels, identified by their trademark red berets, were a constant and sometimes dubious presence on the city’s subways and streets. Now, Sliwa is again leveraging fears of another spike in violent crime – this time as the long-shot Republican candidate for mayor of New York, citing his “decades of leadership” in the Angels to “tackle worsening violence across the Big Apple.” And a piece from GQ unravels “the case of a billion-dollar jewel heist” and the race to catch a “brutally audacious band of thieves.” In November 2019, a robbery took place at Dresden, Germany’s iconic Royal Palace, home to the so-called Green Vault: a “glittering repository” of priceless 18th-century jewels. The theft was described as one of the most costly art heists in history, with the looted treasure valued at as much as $1.2 billion. The hunt to recover the stolen loot would lead police across the continent and deep into a sprawling underground network of warring gangs and powerful crime families: a flashier, higher-stakes “Sopranos of Berlin.”
In culture/true crime: A piece from GQ highlights IRAK, downtown New York’s “most legendary graffiti crew,” and its de facto leader, the formerly incarcerated artist Kunle Martins. Founded by Martins in the mid-1990s, IRAK – a collective of young street artists, skaters, and “derelicts” – was a “revolutionary force” on the scene below 14th Street. Since the group’s late-‘90s heyday, some of its members have found fame, fortune, and bona fide art world success. But Martins endured years of struggle – homelessness, addiction, jail time – to finally get his moment in the spotlight. New York Magazine reviews Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building, a “joyful true-crime parody romp” created by and starring Steve Martin alongside Selena Gomez and Martin Short. In classic whodunit style, the show centers on a “big, stodgy Upper East Side apartment building,” where three neighbors, brought together by a shared love of true crime, set out to solve a murder of their own. And, in an interview with the Atlantic, writer Karen Brown discusses her short story “Needs,” about the murder of a 1960s housewife in a small New England town. Brown talks finding seeds of inspiration in a real-life tragedy, her own attraction to true-crime, and the pull of a good mystery: “like flipping a rock over in the woods.”