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#NPRreads: Police Corruption, A Migrant Crisis, And Sponge Crabs

Years of work by journalist Jamie Kalven resulted in a sweeping report on corruption in the Chicago Police Department.
Scott Olson
Getty Images
Years of work by journalist Jamie Kalven resulted in a sweeping report on corruption in the Chicago Police Department.

#NPRreads is a weekly feature on Twitter and The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers from our newsroom share the pieces that have kept them reading, using the #NPRreads hashtag. Each weekend, we highlight some of the best stories.

From news applications developer David Eads:

Jamie Kalven, an independent journalist, has been covering police misconduct on Chicago's South Side for almost two decades. I worked with him in the early 2000s on an independent news site (the term "blog" hadn't become popularized yet) we called The View From The Ground. More recently, his reporting was crucial in breaking the Laquan McDonald story.

This piece — more than four years in the making — might be his most powerful and best-reported investigation yet. He tells the story of two Chicago Police Department whistleblowers and the corruption in the ranks they sought to expose.

The story presents compelling evidence that a group of officers "taxed" drug dealers, ran their own criminal operations, and murdered those who challenged them. But even more harrowing is the examination of the mechanics of "not-knowing" — how an entire institution and city could craft a narrative that denied the possibility that such corruption could exist.

From digital editor Stephanie Federico:

This week I stopped by Forced From Home, an interactive exhibit hosted by Doctors Without Borders on the National Mall. The traveling exhibit recreates a refugee camp and is meant to raise awareness of the experiences of the millions of refugees and internally displaced people around the world. Before entering the camp, I was given an identity card from South Sudan, one of the countries the aid group works in, and asked to imagine being forced to flee home.

After collecting five items from my "home," I crammed onto an inflatable raft with about a dozen other people. Our guide asked us to picture several dozen more people packed in the boat with us. I pictured some of them dead.

Earlier in the day, I read this New York Times piece about Aris Messinis' experience photographing migrants from a rescue boat off the Libyan coast. Messinis, a photographer with Agence France-Press who has been documenting the migration crisis since it began, said it was like nothing he had ever seen. One boat carried more than two dozen people "asphyxiated from the crush aboard." He witnessed other passengers stepping over the bodies. The conditions were likened to a slave ship.

His images are powerful and heart-stopping — particularly one that shows bodies piled in the middle of a boat. They are difficult to look at, but they're a reminder that we shouldn't close our eyes to the crisis.

From reporter Bill Chappell:

I hadn't been expecting to get drawn into a story about sponge crabs. But that's just what happened, and I had to share it.

For nearly 100 years, Maryland has banned the harvesting of egg-bearing female crabs, which carry thick masses of eggs on their bodies (prompting the "sponge crab" nickname). But Virginia, which shares a huge portion of the Chesapeake Bay with Maryland, doesn't have a blanket prohibition.

This excerpt helps describe the situation:

"As any watermen, and most scientists, will tell you, female crabs only mate once, but they produce millions of eggs anywhere from three to six times during their lives.

"And given crab migration patterns, the majority of sponge crabs are in Virginia waters and mostly caught in southern tributaries close to the mouth of the Bay."

I've been a frequent visitor to the bay, but I hadn't realized the intricacies of this situation until I read this story by member station WYPR. While Virginia has some restrictions on harvesting sponge crabs, the limits are linked to geography and/or the season. There's also a money angle: WYPR spoke about widening Virginia's ban to a commercial waterman who asked, "What are you going to give back to the watermen who lose it all?"

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.