The Post is weaponizing the tragic murder of a Black Erie County woman to argue for mass pretrial detention for thousands more Black people. In so doing, the Post is using its “news” department to scare New Yorkers into voting for a gubernatorial candidate who voted to overturn the 2020 election as Congressman and has promised to rollback a host of important criminal legal reforms in New York.
With less than a week before Election Day, the New York Post is waging a disinformation campaign about modest criminal legal reforms in New York. Among other troubling tactics intended to sow fear and anger through propaganda, the Post is weaponizing the tragic murder of a Black Erie County woman to argue for mass pretrial detention for thousands more Black people. In so doing, the Post is using its “news” department to scare New Yorkers into voting for a gubernatorial candidate who voted to overturn the 2020 election as Congressman and has promised to rollback a host of important criminal legal reforms in New York.
The Post ran several articles this week about Keaira Bennefield, an Erie County woman who was killed by her abusive partner in October. The grief and pain that family, friends and community members feel is real and unimaginable. But the Post chose to exploit that pain for political points, using Ms. Bennefield’s mother to tie the case to bail reform, when the reality is much more complicated.
Here’s the actual truth.
Adam Bennefield, who is suspected of killing Ms. Bennefield, was arraigned on low level misdemeanors just before Ms. Bennefield’s murder – charges that “almost always led to a person to be released on their own recognizance” before bail reform according to reporting in the Albany Times-Union. In short, the person now accused of killing Ms. Bennefield would have almost certainly been released before bail reform if he had been charged with the same alleged crimes.
Bail reform in New York only affected some low level offenses – misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. Judges can and do set bail for people charged with violent felonies, as well as a range of misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. Bail reform did not change a judge’s discretion to set bail in those cases. Prosecutors could have charged Bennefield with second degree assault, which is a bail-eligible violent felony in New York. Additional reporting from the Times-Union found that Ms. Bennefield told law enforcement that her husband “whooped” her child (a violent felony) and forcibly touched Ms. Bennefield, but the local District Attorney, an avid opponent of bail reform, decided not to file charges for those allegations.
Moreover, because prosecutors chose only to charge Adam Bennefield with misdemeanors, he almost certainly would not have served any time at all in the case. In 2021, only 4.1 percent of people charged with misdemeanors in Erie County were sentenced to jail. We know jail is not an effective public safety measure, and this case does not prove otherwise. In short, even if bail had been set, Mr. Benefield would have been released anyway, regardless of bail reform.
The Post then attempted to connect Ms. Bennefield’s death to next week’s gubernatorial race. In an instance of circular reasoning, the Post quoted a biased pollster and conspiracy theorist to claim that the Erie County murder “could cost Gov. Kathy Hochul the election.” The Post – and other right-wing outlets – have spent months fearmongering and drumming up outrage about a manufactured public safety crisis in the leadup to midterm elections. Then, those same outlets gave a mouthpiece to a pollster – who is a Fox News regular known for bashing the Mueller investigation – to suggest disingenuously that a case that the Post and other outlets have reported irresponsibly on could decide an election. Despite what Fox News and the Post suggest, years of research draw no connection between any increases in crime and bail reform.
Finally, the Post went out of its way to allow NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell to criticize bail reform. A reporter showed up at an unrelated press event and asked Sewell “whether [Governor] Hochul needed to go further in allowing judges to lock up dangerous defendants.” Commissioner Sewell, who has lied about bail reform and politicized crime in the past, took the opportunity to call for rollbacks to bail and discovery reform. Sewell also advocated expanded judicial discretion in pretrial detention decisions.
But New York judges have ample discretion to detain people accused of crimes, just as they have ample discretion to release people when they believe doing so is right. Recent reporting indicates that judges set bail less than half the time in bail eligible cases, suggesting that they are acting with judicial care, and following their Constitutional duty in the exercise of due process and fundamental presumption of innocence.
The Post and pro-carceral allies exploited another mother’s pain at a new conference this week, falsely tying the death of Brandon Hendricks to bail reform.
Mr. Hendricks was killed in July 2020. The man suspected of killing Mr. Hendricks was arrested days later and remains held in jail on murder charges. The case had nothing to do with bail reform in 2020, just as it has nothing to do with bail reform now, as the man suspected of the murder had no open cases at the time of his arrest. Concerns about gun violence are real, but using the grief of families to push false narratives is exploitative.
The regressive and punitive “solutions” that outlets like the Post and Fox News platform and advocate do not address root causes of crime and create more violence and death. Better jobs and higher wages have more impact on reducing crime than incarceration. In a recent Daily News opinion piece, economists wrote that workforce and economic policies, not carceral ones, are truly “tough on crime.” Real solutions and safety begin with investments in mental health resources, community-based violence prevention programs and crisis stabilization centers, not police, prosecution and jails.