This Is A Robbery · COVID Crime Rates · Alex Gibney

Plus upcoming "Independent Lens"es, and legal challenges to bigamy

Netflix’s Gardner-heist docuseries, This Is A Robbery, dropped today. I wasn’t sure the world needed it after WBUR’s fantastic Last Seen podcast from a few years back, but at the end of the day, an audio medium doesn’t do quite what a visual doc can when it comes to underlining the significance of the thefts. This Is A Robbery is a Barnicle Brothers production — director Colin Barnicle’s IMDb résumé consists in no small part of sports- and Boston-related material — and while it’s a good process-y overview and smart about timelines and how it cliffhangs episode breaks, it’s also a good Boston story, up there with the Lakers/Celtics 30 For 30 in conveying how a handful of lives were lived in that city. Here’s what I said about that in Primetimer:

Barnicle also has a good ear for a good yarn, and textures his storytelling with "local color" without trading in Bahston stereotypes that wore out around the time Good Will Hunting won its Oscar. A segment from the vintage educational video Museum Security: The Guard's Role, followed by an instructive interview with its creator, is one highlight. Another comes when the action moves to Hartford, CT, where we meet Bobby Gentile. Gentile, who ended up getting made by a Philadelphia Mafia family, converted part of his (probably money-laundering) garage into a kitchenette, where he served noodles and Chianti to "broken-down old gangsters" from the neighborhood. It's not necessary to Barnicle's story, I suppose, and neither are a handful of the interviews with Myles Connor (briskly captioned "art thief," Connor should probably have a documentary to himself), but it's interesting stuff, and Barnicle doesn't let these interludes sap the show's momentum.

In case you don’t feel like/have time for my full review, I’ll re-link to Kelly Horan and Jack Rodolico’s reading list from Last Seen…and encourage you to make recommendations on these books, for or against, in the comments.

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Eagle-eyed readers will remember Anthony M. Amore turning up in Dan Cassino’s excellent review triptych from last week via The Woman Who Stole Vermeer; I could have sworn I reviewed Amore’s The Art of the Con for the old Blotter blog — not terribly favorably; I feel like I didn’t finish it? …Oh wait, here’s my snapshot on Goodreads, in which I regret not DNF-ing it. That said, still a third Amore on the Last Seen list looks like a goer: Stealing Rembrandts, for which Amore has a co-author and which therefore might wear on me less as a prose experience. If any of you has read it, LMK what you think I’d think!

And if you’d rather watch than read about art crime, I dropped an art-doc rec list last year that should help pass the time. — SDB

A documentary I’d looked forward to but didn’t get around to last year, Down a Dark Stairwell, has its premiere on Independent Lens next Monday, April 12. It’s gratifying that my prediction that many of the docs I saw at virtual fests last year would eventually make their ways to PBS is coming true; decidedly less gratifying is how DaDS’s subject speaks to us even louder in 2021:

Down a Dark Stairwell chronicles the tragic shooting of Akai Gurley, an innocent Black man, in Brooklyn, and the trial and subsequent conviction of the Chinese American police officer, Peter Liang, who pulled the trigger, casting a powerful light on the experiences of two marginalized communities thrust into an uneven criminal justice system together.

Check out the trailer here. — SDB

“Has COVID-19 Contributed to an Increase in the U.S. Murder Rate?” That’s the question posed by Adam Janos on A&E’s Real Crime at the end of March. For those of you muttering, “Correlation is not causation,” same here — and because the piece pretty clearly wasn’t going to treat avoidable COVID deaths thanks to a blithely-inadequate-at-best federal response as criminally negligent homicides, I wasn’t sure what it would tell us that we couldn’t already have deduced.

Sure enough, it’s the causes — and qualifiers — you could expect about intimate-partner violence and increased financial hardship, but there is one marginally interesting note about the latter from Lt. Patrick Pajot of Milwaukee PD’s Homicide Unit. Pajot confirms a rise in domestic violence in Milwaukee over the last year, and adds that “There’s a lot of mental health issues going on” that might contribute to an increase in lethal violence — but doesn’t agree that “increased poverty” is a factor, or at least that it’s as big a factor as some think:

“I don’t think that’s as big of a problem as people talk about it,” Pajot says of unemployment. “Our robbery homicides are up a little bit over last year, but not drastically. Property crime is down. I still think our big uptick is just that there’s all this pent-up aggression.”

In Milwaukee, road rage murders are up too, Pajot says—a statistic that points more to short fuses than thin wallets.

What’s interesting to me about the quote isn’t necessarily the quote itself, but that it got left in, and got left in relatively unedited; it’s a bit unusual to see a quotation from an “expert” contact that doesn’t sound scripted, especially in a blog written for a network with a vested interest in pro-police programming. Of course, said quotation isn’t really contextualized — anecdotally, a lot of Brooklyn is seeing more property crime/vandalism, and I wouldn’t have minded a sentence or two from a psychologist or social worker untangling “aggression” from “anxiety in a profoundly disorienting situation of uncertain duration,” but: A&E, you can’t have everything.

The article goes on to list “crime seasonality” and “the yoots” not being in school as possible explanations for rising rate before finally getting to the actual lede: the surge in gun purchases in 2020, 40 percent by first-time gun owners. That’s the beginning and end of the story IMO, and should have been the whole story, versus a clickbait “the ’rona made them do it” take. My fault for expecting otherwise, I guess. — SDB

Speaking of expectations, Eve teased a polygamy story from me yesterday, and I will try not to disappoint — although the story is in fact from The New Yorker’s March 15 issue. It’s one of those longreads that’s only tangentially a crime story, but bigamy is still illegal in most of the country, so that’s my rationale for linking to Andrew Solomon’s piece on how activists from “opposite sides of the culture” are joining up to decriminalize multiple-partner marriages. Here’s a snip detailing why one family Solomon spent time with struggles with the illegality aspect of multiple marriage:

Their living arrangements attracted other unwelcome attention. Neighbors called the police, and Child Protective Services interviewed the children. Since there was only one marriage certificate, the police couldn’t file bigamy charges. “They said, ‘We don’t like it, but there’s nothing we can do,’ ” Julie recalled. “But we had them at our door constantly. One of the kids would have an accident at school—we’d have them there again. They were constantly trying to find signs of abuse.” After six years, the family moved to Medford, a small town in northern Wisconsin, where they could afford a house that accommodated them all and where social services seemed to accept their setup.

Now, the husband in this particular set-up got the idea from becoming “obsessed” with Big Love, but that’s not on his wives/their kids, and while poly-anything is not for me — I am both territorial and disorganized, which doesn’t strike me as ideal — I do find the argument compelling that, if the argument against decriminalizing or even legalizing polygamy is that it’s “bad for the kids,” then formally putting multiple-partner relationships within the same purview as two-party marriages and parenting teams would increase protection for minor children. I mean, provided you trust various government agencies to keep their shit straight, which I wouldn’t, but you know what I mean. And let’s face it, once the IRS figures out how to leverage the married-filing-jointly return for poly citizens, the feds will find a way to make their peace with the practice, count on it.

The piece itself is a great read, and lays out the various angles on the conversation without getting sweaty about, as Solomon crisply puts it, “the government’s interests … in who has sex with whom.” — SDB

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Paid or free subscriber, you can always suggest or request content and coverage by calling or texting us at 919-75-CRIME. “Well but so I was just going to rant about crappy re-enactments on Wives With Knives…” Go for it! — SDB

Y’all, when does Alex Gibney sleep? Does he sleep? In 2021 alone, he’s produced the Tiger Woods doc from January; is producing Painkiller, a scripted drama from Netflix on the opioid crisis, with Peter Berg attached to direct as of last year; and is writing and directing The Crime of the Century, also about the opioid crisis but a docuseries, which is set to hit HBO May 10. This is just the true-crime stuff and isn’t even mentioning the umpteen properties he shoved out of the plane at the end of 2020, but wait, there’s more! Apple TV Plus is planning to debut Gibney’s four-part docuseries The Line this coming fall — and in order to “seed signups” to its streamer via Apple Podcasts, Apple announced that the podcast half of “its first combination podcast-TV original” is out now. Variety’s Todd Spangler has more on the combo and its story, which

comprises two non-fiction series: a six-part narrative non-fiction audio series that debuted Monday (April 6) on Apple Podcasts and a four-part limited documentary series premiering this fall on Apple TV Plus.

The pair of original series promises to reveal “previously untold aspects” about the story of former Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, who in 2018 was charged with committing war crimes after he had posed for a photo with a corpse in Iraq. Members of his platoon had broken ranks and accused Gallagher of murder; he was ultimately being acquitted on all but one minor count and in the fall of 2019 was pardoned by President Trump.

The docuseries is bound to be a must-watch — Gibney won his Oscar for Taxi To The Dark Side, which is about U.S. military torture/interrogation “practices” in Afghanistan; he has the chops in the subgenre — but I may wait for that instead of sampling the podcast. You can find the first two episodes here, and if I shouldn’t sleep on it, let me know! (The host is Running From COPS’s Dan Taberski, if that influences your decision-making at all.) — SDB

Updated to correct network info/premiere date for Crime of the Century.

Thursday on Best Evidence: Social-media justice, and the MacDonald parole saga continues.

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