If you haven’t heard of or listened to the first season of Serial podcast, congratulations – you’ve been living under a rock. Welcome back. Serial is audio investigative journalism hosted by Sarah Koenig. This season’s podcast recaps the 1999 disappearance and murder of teenage Hae Min Lee in Baltimore, and the subsequent conviction of her teenage boyfriend and classmate, Adnan Syed, who maintains his innocence to this day. The case against Adnan was largely built around his “friend” [read: weed provider and smoke buddy] Jay’s account of allegedly helping Adnan bury Hae’s murder, which, according to Jay was [sometimes] claimed to be premeditated. Each episode weaves together different, often complicated information – witness accounts, trial testimony, police interrogation, cell phone and cell tower records, missing evidence, and theories (both logical and unlikely).
I wasn’t initially intrigued by the premise but because so many people I know (from all walks of life) were addicted to the podcast, I had to give it a listen. I’m a follower, what can I say. I need to be in the know. So I decided to wait until all 12 episodes had aired and binge-listened this past weekend.
This podcast is delightfully engaging, confusing, messy and thought provoking. It’s impossible to follow all of the details – major or minor – but you CAN’T STOP listening, hypothesizing, refuting. The more I try to make sense of it all, the less sure I am about what’s what. I’m not #TeamAdnan or #TeamJay. I don’t know who or what to believe. (Sidenote: On The Black Guy Who Tips episode “858: The Serial Killer“, Rod claims that he knows “Adnan did that shit” based on good ol American racism – and I can appreciate his conclusion lol).
With all the holes and speculation in the various stories and the lack of physical evidence connecting Adnan to the murder, I can’t believe a jury convicted Adnan of first degree murder. I mean, I can. But damn. The doubt in this case (in my opinion) is undeniable.
While I found the podcast fascinating – in fact, I much prefer to learn about big cases in this format, much more interesting and educational, so to speak – there was one thing that stood out to me the most. Adnan’s attitude toward his innocence.
SK: My interesting in it has been you, you’re a really nice guy. I like talking to you… Then it’s a question of, what does that mean?
AS: You don’t even really know me, Koenig… It’s weird to hear you say that because I don’t even really know you.
SK: Are you saying you don’t think that I know you at all?
AS: I mean, for you to say that I’m a great person, like a nice person, I don’t know…
SK: What do you think I don’t know about you?
AS: To be honest with you, I feel like I want to shoot myself if I hear some one else say, “I don’t think you did it because you’re a nice guy, Adnan.” I hear people say that to me over the years and it drives me crazy. I would love to hear some one say, “I don’t think that you did it because I looked at the case and it looks kinda flimsy.” I would rather someone say, “Adnan, I think you’re a jerk, you’re selfish, you’re a crazy S.O.B., you should stay in there for the rest of your life, except that I looked at your case and it looks a little off, something’s not right.”
This resonated with me soooo much because I often think about this “nice person” reasoning. And I think if I were in a situation, where I say I’m not guilty, would I want my character to be weighed just as heavily as the evidence? Not just in a court of law, but to those closest to me. Would I want the narrative around my self-proclaimed innocence to be centered on how good a person I am (or am not)? Mostly because I don’t believe any person is above doing something as bad as mudering someone – I think all humans are capable of it. A vast majority of us don’t, or won’t. But we could. Most people are nice until they’re not. Niceness and goodness aren’t necessarily shields from malevolence.
One of my biggest, far-fetched fears is to be wrongfully convicted of a crime I didn’t commit. I’m too
much of a punk pretty to go to jail so I’ll be damned if I get locked up on some BS. But even more, I would hate to have other people always speaking on my behalf, and having other people control what is said about me. Whether it’s my family and friends, lawyers, prosecuters, media, random onlookers. And the attributes assigned to my character, and the value placed on it as a result, could decide my fate.
Of course I would want people who know me to see me for who I normally am. I’m nice (but also a mega bitch), I’m a good person (but have lied to homeless people about the cash I have), I do a lot of service in my community (but I watch Mona Scott Young productions), I’ve never committed a crime (wait, does jaywalking count?), I’m a gentlewoman and a scholar (but I say and do ignant things), I’m bougie (but know most of the lyrics to songs that heavily glorify sexism and unlawful activity), and I love God and my family. I’d want people to know that about me, and remember that about me in the midst of such troubles. I don’t think I’d want people to use that as a reason as to why I wouldn’t/couldn’t do a bad thing. My general state of being doesn’t absolve me of or prevent me from the capacity to do wrong. Like Adnan, I think I’d want people to look at the situation, look at all available information and make their decision based on the likelihood that I would do X. Not the possibility (anything is possible, word to KG). Not the content of my character (word to MLK). Because that isn’t enough – our behavior is often so conditional and subject to change.
SK: Adnan told me all he wanted was to take the narrative back from the prosecution, just as an exercise. So people could see his case without makeup on, look at it in the eye, up close, and make their own judgments.
Of everything else about the podcast, this is the one thing I can relate to the most.
Don’t but-she-was-so-nice me bro,
Have you listened to Serial? If so, what are your thoughts on the case? Did you get anything from the season, aside from chaos and confusion? Do you think being seen as a nice person is important?