This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: A piece from USA Today centers on rising crime and the future of police reform. In a June 23 speech unveiling his crime reduction strategy, President Joe Biden encouraged mayors to use their shares of federal COVID rescue funds on public safety, including hiring more police officers. Amid a nationwide spike in gun violence, the move is aimed at combatting rising crime, but also at pushing back on attacks from Republicans seeking to tie Biden to “defund the police.” But some mayors, especially Democrats, are divided on how best to use the funds, arguing that instead of a return to tough-on-crime “more cops on the streets” policies, the moment calls for more creative alternatives. Politico and The Nation report from Minneapolis, where, this fall, residents will vote on a sweeping ballot measure that would limit the size, scope and influence of their police department. The measure will provide “the first ballot test of a big-city police department overhaul in advance of the midterm elections.” Those in favor of sweeping police reforms, Politico reports, “also see the amendment’s outcome as a gauge of just how much political capital defund movement activists have left against the backdrop of a spike in violent crime.” And the Atlantic reports from Colorado, where, one year after widespread protests, state reforms have brought increased transparency and accountability to law enforcement. Their efforts, experts say, can offer hope and a model of tangible, if narrowly-defined, success to reformers across the US.
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: A story from the New York Times centers on the ongoing crisis at New York City’s Rikers Island jail. On Wednesday, 24-year-old Stephen Khadu became the 12th person to die in New York City DOC custody this year. Advocates say the city’s jails are suffering from a staffing crisis, which has led to serious declines in basic services for those detained there, including food, water, medical and mental health care, and has resulted in a surge in violence. The issue, Gothamist reports, has been compounded by a resurgence of COVID in city jails, with delays in intake and processing times contributing to overcrowding and putting increasing numbers of detainees at risk. A piece from the Marshall Project examines another, more intractable aspect of the crisis: an entrenched culture of brutality and indifference among corrections staff. Even when local officials embrace the need for sweeping reforms in prisons and jails, change is hard-won and comes slowly. And a piece from the New Republic highlights “Biden’s conservative vision on clemency.” During the pandemic, some 4,400 federal inmates were released to home confinement under the CARES Act. But before Donald Trump left office, administration lawyers determined that once pandemic emergency measures were lifted, CARES Act recipients would be forced to return to prison. Even after Biden’s Office of Legal Counsel declined to reverse the memo, advocates were hopeful that Biden himself would issue mass clemency. So far, though, that hasn’t happened, leaving those on home confinement anxious about their futures and frustrating criminal justice advocates.
In complex crime storytelling: A piece from Texas Monthly recounts the “wild story behind the shooting of Walker Daugherty.” On the night of January 6, 2017, police were called to an apparent “ambush” on a hunting ranch in remote southeastern Texas, just miles from the US-Mexico border. “Illegals,” the caller reported, had stormed and fired on the ranch, injuring a hunting guide, 26-year-old Walker Daugherty. In the run-up to Donald Trump’s inauguration, news of the alleged attack quickly spread, taken up by blogs and national media, then by politicians and late-night talk show hosts, “all certain that they knew the real story.” But as the case became a “political Rorschach test,” competing narratives shaped by dueling culture warriors, the realtruth of what had happened was obscured. And a piece from the Chicago Reader, “Reasonable Doubt,” centers on the story of James Allen, who is currently serving three life sentences for murder, and the reporter tasked with telling it. In 2018, Maya Dukmasova, then a “young, inexperienced journalist,” was asked to look into and write about Allen’s wrongful conviction for crimes – including the murder of a Chicago police officer – that occurred more than four decades ago. Over the course of a two-year investigation, Dukmasova pored over more than 4,000 pages of police and court documents and interviewed dozens of sources. But she came away with more questions than answers: not just as to Allen’s guilt or innocence, but also about the way journalists tell stories of official abuse, and about what they expect of the victims of these injustices. “What would it mean,” Dukmasova asks, “to direct the skepticism we reflexively have for convicts toward the state?”
In culture/true crime: Several pieces this week centered on the story of Gabrielle Petito, the 22-year-old woman whose disappearance earlier this month captured national headlines and galvanized “amateur sleuths” across the Internet. On Tuesday, Petito, who went missing while on a cross-country road trip with her fiancé, was confirmed to have died in a homicide. The Washington Post reports that while so much attention – on TikTok, the #gabbypetito hashtag has been searched more than 250 million times – has magnified public awareness of the case, an urgent goal in missing-persons cases, it has also sparked troubling questions about the nature of this interest, and about why Petito’s case in particular has drawn so much public scrutiny. The attention, NPR reports, “looks like racism” to some Native Americans, who say the media has seized on a story of a young, photogenic white woman while ignoring an epidemic of missing and murdered Native women. In the same area where Gabby Petito disappeared, 710 indigenous people – mostly women and girls – disappeared between the years 2011 and 2020. But their stories, critic Molly Jong-Fast writes in the Daily Beast, “didn’t lead news cycles, internet sleuths didn’t clog Instagram and Twitter trying to solve the mystery of their disappearances.” And a piece from Vanity Fair delves deeper into the Gabby Petito story, the history of “online detectives,” and the “queasy places our true-crime obsessions have taken us.”