'Making a Murderer:' The Justice System Non-White Americans Have Been Dealing with for Generations

By Stephen Mattson 1-21-2016

Only in America can you have a huge segment of society become obsessed with a cultural sensation that revolves around the themes of unjust incarceration, a biased legal system, corrupt law enforcement, and a judicial process that disproportionately targets the poor and underrepresented, and simultaneously have the majority of this exact same group not understand the reality of racial injustice.

While hundreds of thousands sign online petitions and advocate for Steven Avery — the man featured in Netflix’s wildly popular documentary series Making a Murderer — advocates for racial equality continually get criticized as being too liberal, too politically motivated, and too biased. And while Steven Avery receives the populist support of a nation obsessed with binge-watching addictive Netflix content, minority victims of injustice are often blamed for their own demise:

They should’ve been more respectful to law enforcement.
If only they would’ve done what the officer asked.
They already had a criminal record.
If only they didn’t break the law.
The court proved that the police didn’t do anything wrong.
A judge ruled against them because of evidenceyou can’t deny that!

In Making a Murderer, Steven Avery may get the benefit of the doubt from most viewers, but black people — who are often targeted, abused, arrested, and sometimes even violently killed — get blamed themselves.

So we have a sociological phenomenon, where a huge segment of society assumes Steven Avery is being victimized by a completely unjust system while contrarily assuming the countless victims of racial injustice are guilty until proven innocent — or at least partially at fault for their own legal circumstances.

At fault for: wearing a hood, talking back to an officer, appearing “aggressive,” and having a skin-color that isn’t white.

This is what makes Making a Murderer so outrageous to some: Steven Avery is white, and he’s being treated like he’s black.

American people are shocked — because to them it’s inconceivable that our legal system could be so completely messed up: Being jailed for a crime you didn’t commit. Given the worst possible legal “representation.” False accusations. Stereotyping. Having police construct the case based on their own ridiculous terms, witnesses, lawyers, and evidence. Being mercilessly at the will of those who have the authority to ruin your life — possibly even take your life.

For those captivated by Making a Murderer, this might be shockingly new and scary.

How could something like this happen?! Is a common reaction I’ve heard from fans of the show.

But what’s really being thought? Unconsciously, deep within the recesses of white America’s mind is this: How could this happen in small-town Wisconsin? To a white man?

Thus, the ensuing uproar. The viral sensation. The non-stop talk, analysis, and commentary over Netflix’s newest hit. Over something that’s already been happening to non-white groups of people within our society before our nation was even founded.

In the meantime, Black Lives Matter will continue to advocate for thousands of victims who’ve suffered under this exact same messed-up system, victims who have been experiencing this same type of abuse for years, decades, and generations — victims who are treated unlawfully based upon their skin color.

And whether you’re convinced that Manitowoc County — the sleepy community in Wisconsin where much of Making a Murderer takes place — is part of a major crime conspiracy, or at the very least made some pretty major and serious legal mistakes, it doesn’t take a giant leap to imagine similar biases and misconduct being prevalent in other judicial and legal communities around the United States, especially those within heavily populated urban centers, and particularly to victims who are black.

Places where records don’t exist, footage isn’t available, documentaries aren’t being produced, and there’s absolutely no accountability, oversight, or checks and balances to prevent corruption, racism, and pure evil from happening. Places where the scales are tipped to drastically favor one side over another.

This is the reason everyone — especially Christians — should be passionate about justice issues relating to race and ethnicity, and also shouldn’t quickly dismiss the message of groups such as Black Lives Matter, because the same miscarriage of justice that it's apparent Steven Avery suffered from is something that’s horrifically common for non-white Americans.

So the next time the topic of Making a Murderer comes up at the office, school, or when you’re with friends, remember why this documentary is such a big deal. Because for many white American citizens, what they’re actually witnessing — without even realizing it — is what non-white Americans have been suffering from for decades. God help us.

Stephen Mattson is a writer who currently resides in the Twin Cities, Minn. You can follow him on Twitter (@mikta) or on Facebook.

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"'Making a Murderer:' The Justice System Non-White Americans Have Been Dealing with for Generations"
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