"Four Hours At The Capitol": Crowd sourcing

Plus two magazine longreads, and the Cosby case continues

Not so fast, Dr. Huxtable. Artist Lili Bernard filed suit against Bill Cosby at the end of last week

over a 1990 hotel room encounter in Atlantic City, New Jersey, before the state’s two-year window to file older sexual assault claims expires.

Los Angeles artist Lili Bernard told The Associated Press she was prompted in part by Cosby’s recent release from prison. The 84-year-old Cosby has been free since June, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his 2018 sexual assault conviction in another case on procedural grounds.

He had served more than two years of a potential 10-year sentence.

Unsurprisingly, a Cosby spokesperson sniffed that this violates Cosby’s right to due process. Prosecutors in Pennsylvania still haven’t decided whether to appeal the reversal of Cosby’s conviction to the Supreme Court, and given that body’s current make-up, I’d be loath to try it without a wheelbarrow of case law on board too, but we’ll see what happens from here. — SDB

“If two unsolved murders weren’t enough motivation to secure the Woodson Houses, what would be?” Well, even before reading New York’s cover story from last week, “The Woodson Houses Killings,” I’d have had to conclude it’s something along the lines of “being white and living below 100th St. in Manhattan”; Greg Donahue’s article only confirmed that suspicion, and while that is very bad, Donahue’s piece is not. It’s a methodical tour of everything the New York City Housing Authority, the NYPD, and various “security” concerns didn’t do to keep residents at Woodson — one of the city’s rare housing developments reserved for seniors — safe, to investigate their suspicious deaths, or even to show up at council meetings to answer questions, and it’s suspensefully constructed, with a possible suspect reappearing later in the story. And there’s that NYC real-estate wrangling drama no local longread is quiiiite complete without, as COVID becomes an unindicted co-conspirator:

“A bunch of us had talked about it,” Williams said. “Okay, his brother is dead. Why is he still here?” Normally, Kevin would have been on the street in a matter of days — NYCHA’s unsympathetic eviction policy is well known among tenants — but he had assumed his brother’s apartment at an auspicious time for a squatter: The city’s eviction moratorium had gone into place a few weeks earlier at the start of the pandemic. If Kevin refused to turn in the keys, NYCHA couldn’t take him to court.

Donahue gets great quotes, too — people talking about a fellow resident who could dance all night “and never catch a short wind”; another source sighing that “It was unbelievable that it was someone that we knew. But it wasn’t unbelievable that it was him.” Well written, well reported, everything we started this newsletter to recommend. — SDB

Ditto Rachel Poser’s “Set Up And Sent Away” for The New Yorker in the mag’s October 18 issue. Poser uses the case of Joshua Boyer as a jumping-off point to examine everything from overly harsh sentencing mandates; to whether sting operations often create the very crimes they’re designed to punish; to the even greater lack of transparency in police work that’s clandestine/undercover.

Boyer, who had not touched a gun, was charged with two firearm offenses and conspiracy to distribute at least five kilos of cocaine, even though the stash house didn’t exist. The A.T.F. had set the amount of drugs high enough to trigger a mandatory minimum of ten years, so a judge would have little leeway to amend a sentence. “My lawyer said that if I went to trial I’d be looking at life,” Boyer told me.

In the past four decades, sting operations of all types have become a major part of law enforcement in the United States, and stash-house stings are perhaps the most extreme example of this trend, because of the harsh penalties they carry. They can result in longer sentences than real crimes of a similar nature. Defendants like Boyer are often surprised to learn that the government has a nearly limitless ability to deceive.

Poser maintains the “house remove,” but it’s still clear she’s disgusted by the deception and grandstanding — or maybe I’m just projecting — and the article moves easily between historical context (landmarks in the evolution of entrapment, for instance) and Boyer’s appeals process, launched from a prison-library desk made out of a door. Another solid read that you can also listen to if you like. — SDB

I promise that accounts of law-enforcement intransigence are not today’s entire edition of Best Evidence! We strive only to bring you the best-made ones, the ones worth your time. Think we’re doing a good job? Want to defray the costs of my umpteen magazine subs? Can’t miss a single docuseries review? Plump for a paid subscription and don’t miss a thing!

And I don’t know how the nation’s online retailers decided to make the pernicious “Giftober” concept a thing, but we’re not trying that around here. We will point out that the gift of Best Evidence is instant; hypoallergenic; and not subject to supply-chain issues.

Give a gift subscription

And if you already subscribe at the paywall level, you are a gift; thanks so much. — SDB

The crime
On January 6 of this year, insurrectionists attacked the U.S. Capitol.

The story
Four Hours At The Capitol brought me right back to that day, to the experience of huddling in my underheated storefront and watching the attack unfold in real time. The shop’s entire front wall is mid-century glass. It’s on a block that had engaged in political-sign vandalism wars for at least a month the previous fall, in a congressional district that elected Nicole “Photoshop” Malliotakis, who then declined to certify the election results. For not the first time since moving to Bay Ridge, I felt afraid, exposed, even hundreds of miles from the insurrection. And for not the first time, we all had to stand by and watch a situation unfold that nobody had any experience with, during which it again seemed as though nobody was in charge. How much more disorienting could a one-year period become before we all just die of emotional motion sickness?

So: Four Hours is very effective. It’s very evocative. That isn’t necessarily a recommendation — my BP spiked seven minutes into the doc, and I frequently felt re-nauseated — but whether it’s the sheer lunacy of the events themselves or the assembly, it’s a potent watch. Director Jamie Roberts (The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty) gathers footage from various participants and body cams, weaving it into talking-head interviews with everyone from Proud Boys to Capitol police to Mike Fanone to Chuck Schumer to a cop widow; I know executive producer Dan Reed’s work from the 3 Days doc about the Charlie Hebdo attacks, which had a similar facility at putting the viewer there with the subject. I think that’s what Four Hours is trying to do, and it succeeds.

What it also succeeds in doing, whether purposefully or not, is raising the question of whether a chronicle like Four Hours is an important and thorough record of what happened, designed to rip the scab off of what we felt about it at the time and to remind us why it happened and what it cost…or a dangerous both-sides signal-boost for deranged conspiracy theorists, whose dingbat beliefs shouldn’t get any more play even if the framework of the doc suggests that we not take them seriously. This is, when you think about it, what everything about the last 4-5 years in the United States comes down to: how seriously to take ten pounds of grift in a five-pound toupee. Whether we can afford not to. Deciding whether to treat the Marjorie Taylor Greenes of the world — she’s shown in iPhone footage in the Capitol safe room, maskless, laughing — as red flags or footnotes. In my view, it’s an important record, analogous to the oblivious (at best) townspeople interviewed in Shoah, and ignoring disaffected Qbots doesn’t make them go away, alas. But it’s worth thinking about, in the same way it’s worth thinking about whether consuming, say, Bundy product makes us complicit in glamorizing the man and his crimes. It’s not that simple, of course, but…uncritical absorption of information is, in the end, what got us here.

If you think you don’t want to revisit that day in doc form, trust your gut and skip it; it’s impressively built (a few questionable music cues excepted) and compelling, but it’s also rage-making and depressing, it deals with suicides, and there is plentiful footage of people getting attacked, screeching for help, and remembering while hiding under a desk that they didn’t know if they would survive the day. The rawness is the point, and remembering that destabilizing dread is instructive, but not necessary. Four Hours is good, but what I recommend is caution. — SDB

[Updated 5:50 PM 10/18/21 because I confused Boebert and MTG. Apologies!]

This week on Best Evidence: We’ll be celebrating the anniversary of Ann Rule’s birth at week’s end; in the meantime, tbh I’m not sure what we’ll get up to!

What is this thing? This should help. Follow Best Evidence @bestevidencefyi on Twitter and Instagram. You can also call or text us any time at 919-75-CRIME.