The last episode of podcasting's first global break-out hit, "Serial," drops on Thursday. While we all sit there hitting refresh, we are all also wondering if the big question will be answered: Did Adnan do it?
I'm curious what the conclusions will be. But, truthfully, I think we are asking the wrong question. I'll explain in a bit, but first a little background.
"Serial," a podcast produced and funded by the popular "This American Life" radio program, is the first podcast of its kind and may very well change the way the world thinks about the medium. For its first season, reporter Sarah Koenig looked into the murder of a Baltimore high school student, Hae Min Lee, for which her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Sayed, was convicted and sent to prison for life.
Over 12 episodes, Koenig outlined the state's case and Adnan's defense, the technology used to convict, contradictions in testimony. She did a short, un-recorded interview with a man, Jay, who many of the armchair investigators listening to the show feel could very likely be guilty of the Lee's murder. If Koenig left any stone unturned, any of the shows millions of listeners have, at some point, turned it (and posted what they found somewhere on the Internet).
Now, I don’t know if Adnan did it and, while I would like to know the truth of this situation, I never will. Honestly? I also don’t care, because something bigger is at play in this national conversation. Maybe Adnan is a psychopath; maybe he is an innocent pawn. Maybe police bias did this, maybe racism did this, maybe the community did this, maybe he murdered Lee and did this. I don’t think this show, this podcast, can figure it out any better than it already was figured out. But it can, and it has, brought to our attention the process by which these things are determined. And that process, we already knew and have been clearly reminded by this show, is a scary one that turns on a dime.
I don’t think it’s even the producer's place to be responsible for our decision about his guilt or innocence—for proving what can or can't be known. The job of this show is to teach us how this process works, for anyone who gets caught up in it, and the differences between what that process is like for a white person and a person of any kind of color at the moment in time where their color means what it does.
Whether Adnan is guilty or innocent, everything about this trial should incense anyone who lives in this country.
That being said, I believe the evidence used to convict him was so far from meeting any standard of proof that his conviction was wrong. No physical evidence. Confirmed jury tampering. Confirmed defense lawyer misconduct. Confirmed prosecution misconduct. Confirmed lies by a prosecution witness. Confirmed promise of benefits for those lies by the prosecutor to the prosecution witness.
This is just one case, now in the spotlight. How many countless others have been charged, tried and convicted under similar circumstances?
Whether Adnan is guilty or innocent, everything about this trial should incense anyone who lives in this country. Everything about it is antithetical to any value we Americans believe to be the core of our legal system. His guilt or innocence isn’t the issue, and I don’t think we should be looking for some magical exculpatory tool from the producers of a podcast. We should be looking to them for a way to think about this conundrum and the huge problem with the theoretical-, punitive- and revenge-based way we approach “justice” and the racist/classist benchmarks at its core.
Our system is deeply flawed, and, as parents raising kids in this system, we should all care deeply about this. Koenig and the episodes of "Serial" told the story of a boy, now man, of Pakistani descent and made us care if he was guilty or innocent. It made us care about how we treat the accused. His innocence or guilt is truly irrelevant to this conversation. What happened to him was unfair, at its most basic.
This show gave us an example of what our legal system does. Whether he is guilty or innocent, it is a terrible display of the path to justice we invoke. His eventual conviction and sentencing was riddled with partiality, racism, classism and apathy.
What the “Serial” podcast can do, and hopefully has done and will continue to do, is make us all care about the plight and rights of the accused. That is what matters. That is what we should be talking about.