Author: Allison Seigler
In its second season, the Gimlet Media podcast Crimetown explores racism in an undercover police force in Detroit. Its season premiere episode, “Stop the Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets” tells the story of how a young black woman was able to take down a renowned undercover cop.
The episode opens with former Detroit police officer Raymond Peterson describing a time he shot a guy who robbed him as part of his police job. After this brief scene, the podcast turns to Mary Jarrett-Jackson, who tells us how much she hates Peterson.
Mary Jarrett-Jackson was a young black woman who worked at the Detroit police department. She wanted to be a doctor, but when she realized no one would hire her because of her race and gender, she settled on being a crime lab technician. As an employee at the police department, Jarrett-Jackson was well-acquainted with the department’s undercover program intended to stop robberies, called STRESS (Stop the Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets). The officers in the program were blatantly racist and often killed black men when they didn’t need to. She wanted to dismember this program, starting with Raymond Peterson, the program’s most notorious killer.
One night while driving, Raymond Peterson got into a fender bender. When the man driving the other car, Robert Hoyt, ran out of the car, Peterson thought he might have a gun and shot him. Peterson then planted a knife in Hoyt’s car to try to make himself look more innocent.
Further analysis of the knife in the crime lab left Jarrett-Jackson suspicious. The traces found on the knife did not match the contents of Hoyt’s pocket but were very similar to the contents of Peterson’s pocket. When a search warrant was ordered, officers found that Peterson had a cat, which matched the cat hair found on the knife.
While the all-white jury found Peterson innocent, he lost his job at the police officer. Jarrett-Jackson was happy she was able to potentially save the lives of many young black men in Detroit who didn’t deserve to die.
I tried to follow the first season of Crimetown when it debuted years ago, but I was bored after a couple of episodes since true crime isn’t my favorite genre. I’m trying to give this season a fair chance, but visualizing the detailed snapshots of an action scene without actually seeing it or following along with the sequential legal proceedings can be difficult. I think Crimetown does its best to make the information as understandable and interesting as possible, but if true crime isn’t your thing, it may still be hard to stay engaged with the episodes.
While the last season focused on the mob scene in Providence, this season seems like it will be about police brutality in Detroit, judging from the first episode. I love that Gimlet decided to pick an issue that is very relevant to society today. I hope that shedding light on police brutality from the past will help others understand how racism is built into our institutions and how fear is used to continue to draw a line between black and white, even recently. I’m excited to see what direction Crimetown goes this season and hope that it will help us as Americans reflect on what kind of society we live in.