Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Maybe we're the ones who are guilty

I didn't follow the Casey Anthony murder trial for the same reason I never follow the missing-white-girl, Nancy Grace brand of intensively selective outrage. That doesn't mean I don't have things to say about the outcome.

It's interesting to see how a not-guilty verdict in a case like this really lights a fire in people. Yesterday, my Facebook and Twitter feeds were awash in declarations of death for the justice system. Smart, friendly people who aren't typically known for keeping an eye on American litigation suddenly became not just authorities on the subject, but also outraged watchdogs. It's as jarring as it is annoying.

It happens sometimes, almost always because of a high-profile trial given a disproportionate amount of breathless media coverage — the kind that seems to insist that nothing of this sort has ever occurred before. Oh, and the defendants are all guilty, guilty, guilty, no matter what the presented cases and evidence point out to the group that matters, the jury.

And that's why I don't buy that people want justice in cases like this — what they want is revenge. The bad guy to go down in flames. And when they don't get it, they wonder where the system went wrong. They wonder how this overblown TV show they're watching didn't deliver the satisfying ending they craved from the beginning. If justice were the issue, the decision wouldn't evoke such anger and self-righteousness one way or the other. That isn't to say that verdicts are sometimes wrong and that outrage has no place, but there are few reasons to attach the same deep emotions to the Anthony case as to, say, the Jena Six case. But people do. And all one has to do is turn on the cable TV to see why anyone does.

Again, I don't know whether or not the Casey Anthony trial was on the level. But what I do know is that, once again, it has shaken awake a disconcerting bloodlust — the idea that a not-guilty verdict is unfathomable, and that justice comes only with condemnation. And it reminds me that even casual spectators of the American judiciary like to feel superior to those actually charged with administering due process. That says far more about us than it does about the justice system.

There's a reason suspects are tried in courtrooms and not in the court of public opinion. And this is it.


GDad said...

I had a similar reaction at work the other day. My boss came breathlessly around the corner with the news that it was a not guilty verdict. My coworkers were all abuzz. I sort of muttered that I wasn't aware of the specifics of the trial. Fortunately, NPR didn't give it very much coverage, if any.

Kelli said...

I did follow the trial, and not via mass media coverage. Investigate it and your stomach will turn. The entire trial was a showcase and the lead defense attorney won this case based upon random and outlandish accusations. There were so many seeds of doubt planted that not one juror could definitively choose an appropriate decision. Of those jurors that have stepped forward (and God bless their strength), they were all disappointed by the outcome.

Say hello to the next gen OJ.