How Netflix’s Making A Murderer Helps Us See Systemic Abuse In Cases Like The Fairbanks Four
Potential spoilers of Making A Murderer below.
This weekend, my wife and I binge-watched Netflix’s new docuseries, Making A Murderer, which recounts two cases against Steven Avery in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Avery was initially wrongly imprisoned for 18 years before advanced DNA technology exonerated him. The documentary showed, quite convincingly, that police misconduct allowed Avery to be convicted for that initial crime he did not commit. The police, it appeared, had conspired to pin the crime on Avery regardless of where the evidence led. To put it more strongly, the Manitowoc police didn’t look elsewhere for another suspect. They simply decided that Avery was who they wanted to jail for the crime. This is quite ridiculous and it’s hard watching injustice prevail with no repercussions for those who abused the system. Once Avery was released from that false imprisonment, having been helped by the amazing Innocence Project, he readjusted to life at home and set out to sue the Manitowoc County police force for his unjust imprisonment. Avery then gets picked up for a murder on his own property and maintains his innocence throughout the trial. The majority of Making A Murderer focuses on this trial and potential police misconduct, creating a déjà vu situation for Avery. The documentary is maddening and frustrating, but very important. It reveals potential ways that the justice system can be used to oppress people all the while protecting itself from any blowback.
The Black Lives Matter protests have become popularized by attacking similar injustices this past year and recently the “Fairbanks Four”, a group of Indians in Alaska, have been released (a day before Making A Murderer was released on Netflix) after serving 18 years for the murder of another teenager. Their convictions came from testimonies of two of the four that they later claimed as coercive. Likewise, Brandon Dassey, Steven Avery’s nephew and the lynchpin in the Making A Murderer Avery trial, was heavily coerced to give what appears to be false testimony. Dassey’s attorneys, and Avery’s attorneys for that matter, all believed Dassey, a teenager at the time, to have been coerced into giving a false testimony that served to incriminate himself and Avery in the murder. Watching the detectives interview Dassey, it’s hard to believe that Dassey’s confession was as voluntary as the judge and attorney’s would have the public believe. When the cops basically tell Dassey what to say or when Dassey’s public defender’s investigator tells Dassey what crime scenes to draw (scenes he later says he made up), we see the abusiveness of the system. Likewise, the Fairbanks Four were imprisoned based off similar coerced testimonies and were only released when another man admitted to the crime with different accomplices.
For all its good, the justice system has been used as a tool of oppression towards the poor and people of color. Netflix’s Making A Murderer shows how that happens. When a group of detectives and attorneys wish to serve their careers only or seek to pin a crime on someone for reasons other than evidence, they work towards abusing the justice system. It’s far too easy to believe that all cops are good or that the justice system never fails us. The reality, on the other hand, is that there are people who have found ways to abuse the system. When the system becomes so entrenched and confined within itself, it’s hard to overcome these abuses because those in power defend each other. The justice system protects cops just as cops protect their own. Lately, these injustices are coming to light and many people are seeing and reacting towards it all.
Netflix’s Making A Murderer helps everday people who have learned to never question their authorities to see how some of their authorities work to oppress others. This docuseries should be required watching for all, especially the poor and people of color. Evils like this occur every day, especially within Indian Country. The “Fairbanks Four” were convicted for a crime they did not commit based on testimony that was forced. They received their redemption. How many more like the “Fairbanks Four” are out there? How many more like Avery and Dassey are out there? In all likelihood, there are probably far more than we wish to think about.