Women In Blue · Opioids, Inc. · Vintage-Ball Copa Brawl
Plus, ProPublica on officer-involved deaths behind bars
Welcome back, readers. We took Juneteenth off to reflect (and catch up on relevant reading, some of which is noted below); I hope everyone had a safe and nourishing solstice as well. Now it’s officially summer, and we’d love to hear from you about upcoming books or watches you’d like us to cover, here or on the podcast. Hell, if you’re in one of the cities whose illegal-fireworks activity has spiked, scaring your pets and ruining your sleep, the comments are here for you.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but: the Minneapolis police department keeps shooting civilians. This is likely not the logline Women In Blue director Deirdre Fishel would prefer…but at the same time, the one on IMDb can’t pretend that’s not where we’re at: “Documentary follows the stories of the women police officers in Minneapolis who try to reform the department and restore trust in the community after a high-profile police shooting forces its first female chief to resign.”
The reason I’d looked forward to watching Women In Blue via the AFI DOCS virtual fest is the same reason the center of it doesn’t hold: events have overtaken it, to a distracting degree. Per the summary above, the documentary is trying to get its arms around problems in Minneapolis policing along the axis of a handful of women in MPD — the embattled chief, Janée Harteau; an officer transferred to IA, then given a mandate to investigate challenges in recruiting women…but no funds for the project; a patrol officer with three years on the job; a lieutenant who ends up leaving for a more rewarding job in correctional support — but more recent events intrude throughout. The lieutenant has charge of Minneapolis’s Third Precinct, for one.
For another, Fishel can’t help shaping the narrative to editorialize on just how many headline incidents of lethal violence Minneapolis police perpetrated, and just how different justice looks for the family of a white woman shot by an MPD cop (the cop convicted on all charges; a $20 million settlement) and the family of Jamar Clark, a black man (no charges; the family gets 200K, years later). For every statistic a subject cites on camera about the proportion of officer-involved shootings and excessive-force complaints tied to male cops — spoiler: almost all of them — there’s one about black people in Minneapolis’s ten-times-greater likelihood of getting arrested for low-level offenses like possession or driving with a suspended license. For every talking-head sighing that it takes years for a woman to “be herself” in a department that thinks of its woman-identified employees as “a mother; a bitch; or a whore,” there’s the training deputy who’s all “Rodney King deserved it, because: high-speed chase, amirite guys?” That said deputy is African-American speaks chillingly to the secondary problem in policing — that hand-in-hand with racial profiling and bias in community contact is a much broader and blunter “blue/not blue” profile.
And on top of all of that, Fishel accidentally highlights issues of…I don’t know what to deem this stuff, actually. Clueless scheduling? Stupid staffing tricks? Who thinks it’s a good idea to put two officers with only a year-plus on the force in the same car? Why is the overnight shift mostly younger personnel? Like, I get how seniority works, but the dicier situations that call for some experience and nuance don’t tend to go down at 1 PM, as a rule.
None of this is Fishel’s fault. The somewhat scattered and list-y feel of the film chronology-wise in its first half isn’t great, but I can see where that might proceed from hasty last-minute re-edits to try to acknowledge the current moment via footage taken five years ago. And I do think there’s a good film, somewhere, on the topic generally of women in policing, and in a department that has made recruitment and support of women a priority. I also think that film is not based in the United States and is a decade away. I suspect that thanks to the setting Women In Blue gets a PBS pick-up sooner rather than later, and I hope Fishel’s hard work is thus rewarded, but at the same time I can’t really recommend this one. Again, it’s not Fishel’s fault the boat got swamped by history, but…there’s other, timelier watches out there. — SDB
Frontline’s “Opioids, Inc.” episode drops Tuesday, but you can watch it now if you like. Okay, “like” is not the correct verb for watching any Frontline, much less this one as summarized on the ep’s landing page: “The story of a drug company that pushed opioids by bribing doctors and committing insurance fraud. With the Financial Times, FRONTLINE investigates how Insys Therapeutics profited from a fentanyl-based painkiller 50 times stronger than heroin.”
I won’t lie; this is going to join the nearly a dozen Frontlines already sulking on my DVR, including several on the botched response to the COVID crisis, and two pertinent episodes from May of 2019 called “NRA Under Fire” and “Sex Trafficking In America” that, as with so many eps of this fine, bleak show, I know I should watch but haven’t been able to make myself as of yet. So, like me, you may choose to let your DVR capture this one and try to face it later.
But if, also like me, you’re hoping that recent conversations about racial injustice don’t lose sight of the role that plays in the opioid crisis — to wit: it wasn’t a “crisis” until suburban white kids lost the handle on their lives — then maybe you’ll make time for it sooner rather than later. (And/or float Beth Macy’s Dopesick to the top of your to-read pile.) — SDB
ProPublica’s harrowing account of the in-custody death of Phillip Garcia reminds us that George Floyd’s fate is in store for many others behind bars — particularly those in psychiatric crisis. “Somebody’s Gotta Help Me” was published last week, along with illustrative video that I made myself watch. While I wouldn’t advise doing the same, I would suggest reading PP’s explanation of why they’ve chosen to make the video available, and the process they went through with Garcia’s family in that decision-making. It’s clear the team still isn’t entirely settled with the choice — and as I’ve said before and will keep saying, it’s a conversation reporters and reviewers in the crime/justice space need to keep having with ourselves vis-a-vis whether attention and illumination offset harm and triggering a property or piece of evidence might cause.
“Somebody’s Gotta Help Me” itself is, of course, a sobering read; possibly its most damning aspect is how utterly, nauseatingly familiar the framework of facts is at this juncture. A person of color, struggling with substance abuse and psychologically in extremis, is seen first and foremost as in need of controlling, not treating; disproportionate force is brought to bear while medical professionals who could manage the situation productively are sidelined; the person dies, and those responsible receive no discipline.
…in 2013, a group of inmates filed a federal lawsuit against Riverside County, alleging it provided incompetent care, violating their constitutional rights. Court filings described the jails’ intake process as cursory, with deputies failing to document an inmate’s history of seizures. The plaintiffs described care for the mentally ill as especially dreadful. “Acute psychiatric symptoms, such as hearing voices, have been ignored by Riverside jail mental health treatment staff,” the complaint states.
Dr. Scott Allen, a professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, Riverside, and one of the experts, found in 2015 that local judges were issuing 150 orders a month to the sheriff’s department to force it to provide medical or mental health treatment to inmates.
“The current level of care in Riverside County jails is inadequate, poses a significant risk of serious harm to inmates confined there and in the opinion of this expert does not meet minimal constitutional standards,” Allen wrote in his report to the federal court that November.
This is a long, grim read that tells you with maddening specificity everything you already know generally about the priorities of the carceral complex. I recommend it, and I also recommend having another tab open with a puppy-forward Instagram account loaded up, to soothe the soul. — SDB
After more than six decades, “a Confession in a Legendary Yankees Scandal”! It’s Sunday as I write this, and as I was wondering aloud to myself whether this is the most hopeless edition of Best Evidence to date or merely in the bottom five, my eye wandered over to NY1, where the “In The Papers” segment was covering this very story. In short, a bunch of Yankees players got into it with a bunch of drunk outer-borough bowlers at the Copacabana (or so everyone thought), and the ensuing drama played out in the papers for weeks, with “suspicion” variously centering on RF Hank Bauer (a “beefy” guy capable of laying victim Edwin Jones out with one punch) and Billy Martin (a…well, a Billy Martin). Bauer took a collar for the incident, and the scuffle was seen as a perfect excuse to dump the salty Martin, a decision that rippled out, then back in, for years to come.
As it turns out, though, an off-duty bouncer, Joey Silvestri, was the actual puncher — and the kerfuffle started because Bauer and Martin objected to racist comments made by the bowlers to Copa headliner Sammy Davis Jr. Silvestri, now 88, never said anything, primarily because the mobsters he worked for wouldn’t have liked it, but now that everyone else involved is long dead, he’s “setting records straight.”
Non-baseball fans’ eyes may have glazed over at the headline, but it’s a flavorful longread that gives a good overview of mid-century NYC nightlife; how much truth there was to Mantle’s outsize reputation as an expert heller; and how information flowed between and around celebrity subjects and the almost-as-famous columnists who covered them. (Want more like this? Dan Gutman’s Baseball Babylon has the vintage dish.) — SDB
Tuesday on Best Evidence: The other Sessions, Murder House Flip S2, and more.
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