“Making a Murderer” and Law Enforcement

By Emily Moran

Elm Staff Writer

In December, Netflix added a new documentary series that has recently been the subject of numerous discussions about corruption in the justice system.  “Making a Murderer,” a 10-episode documentary series, showed how Steven Avery, who was previously wrongfully convicted of sexual assault and sent to prison for 18 years. After being freed, Avery potentially faced more jail time in 2005 for the murder of Teresa Halbach, which occurred just a few days prior to his pending legal action against the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department.

In later episodes the series reveals that the Manitowoc County Sherriff’s Department, whose negligence was responsible for Avery’s arrest in the previous case, is suspected of planting evidence in Avery’s trailer in order to convict him of the crime. As viewers watched the events unfold, most were outraged at the misconduct and blatant corruption of the Manitowoc Country Sherriff’s Department.  Among the most revolting of these incidences was the Department’s interrogation of Brendan Dassey, an intellectually disabled teenager and Avery’s nephew.  During the process, the interrogators were aggressive towards Dassey, coercing him into admitting that he assisted Avery in the murder even though Dassey would later say that this was not the case.  As disturbing as this case is, should viewers see it as simply entertainment, or should we use it as a way to start (or advance) a conversation about the imperfect justice system in the United States?

Though “Making a Murderer” is quite entertaining and easy to binge-watch, it has nevertheless made the issue of corruption within the American justice system even more relevant and apparent.  Avery’s mistreatment at the hands of local law enforcement enraged enough viewers to organize a White House petition calling for the pardon of Steven Avery.  According to The Washington Post, “As of early Monday [January 4, 2016] the series has compelled nearly 200,000 people to sign Change.org petitions and White House petitions.”  The popular series has no doubt had a huge effect on people’s perception of the way by which the justice system currently operates.     

Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” has received criticism from the family of Teresa Halbach for its apparent attempts to create entertainment out of a family tragedy.
Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” has received criticism from the family of Teresa Halbach for its apparent attempts to create entertainment out of a family tragedy.

Despite the repeated incidents of police brutality during recent years, the consensus among the general population has been that law enforcement officers have everyone’s best interests at heart and are mostly good, law-abiding citizens themselves.  “Making a Murderer” reinforces the idea that this may not always be the case.  “Making a Murderer” may play a key role in exposing how broken the American justice system is to those privileged enough to not have experienced such injustice(s) and would thus start the discussion on how to fix it.

The reactions of some people to “Making a Murderer” have elicited some criticism, however.  For many viewers, this is their first exposure to blatantly unfair treatment of a citizen from a law enforcement officer. However, some have pointed out that while many of these people have the privilege of having mostly positive interactions with law enforcement officers, many people of color are not so lucky.  People of color are subjected to the corruption and, in some cases, brutality of police forces across the country quite frequently.  Thus, many people of color are frustrated that it took the false conviction of a white man to expose corruption of the justice system, when too many people of color have been in very similar situations with law enforcement.  To some, it feels insulting that people will become outraged about what happened to Avery, but will either continually ignore or dismiss the violence that happens to people of color at the hands of law enforcement.

Though the disgusted reactions of some have been the subject of criticism, there is a silver lining to this dilemma.  Hopefully, the same people who are outraged at how law enforcement handled Steven Avery’s case will be inspired to learn and research more about how corruption within the justice system and police brutality are real issues facing many Americans.  The more people that recognize the flaws within the justice system, the closer we as a nation are closer to fixing these flaws, and creating a better system that is fair for everyone.

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