Thoughts on SERIAL and Being a Nice Person

January 6, 2015


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.

From Episode 6: The Case Against Adnan Syed

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.

From Episode 12: What We Know (finale)

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?

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  • Reply Wu Young, Agent of M.E. January 6, 2015 at 10:13 am

    My love for the Wire/Homicide: Life on the Street have me hooked on Serial so far. I’m actually listening to Episode Six as I type this. (I still think Jay is lying. This train of thought my change as I move forward.)

    “Don’t but-she-was-so-nice me bro,”

    I’m not fond of that “so-nice” shit, Marge. Among my friends that I grew up with we’ve often joked about how public perception and the judicial system of Allendale county/Fighting Fourteen district is messed. When I say “messed-up” I mean “messed-up” to the tune of one murder conviction in 30 years. We laughed about how we all know people who we grew up with outside of our circle of friends who have murdered multiple people and walked free but if one of us did the same they’d bury us because of the “but-he/she-was-so-nice” shit.

    That and the classic “He/she seemed so quiet” move are death knells in a possible defense. This is messed up logic but I low-key imagine how I would end up wrongfully incarcerated.

    Being nice is great but being where I’m from and seeing how malevolent crimes go down I seriously doubt that “being nice” is going to help you.

    • Reply gemmieboo January 6, 2015 at 12:50 pm

      omg, Homicide: Life on the Street used to be my ish!! that was The Wire prequel, mayne. Richard Belzer, Andre Braugher, Clark Johnson, Melissa Leo, Yaphet Kotto, what?!?! that show was so damn good!!

      Jay is clearly lying – but i think only about certain things (which things? unclear). and he admits it repeatedly (even to this day – https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/12/29/exclusive-interview-jay-wilds-star-witness-adnan-syed-serial-case-pt-1). but i’m not necessarily convinced he’s lying about Adnan doing it. i think he lied, with the help of police, to make the story fit neatly together, and help the prosecution with their case. but, as i said, the more i try to make sense of it, the more unsure i become.

      “Being nice is great but being where I’m from and seeing how malevolent crimes go down I seriously doubt that “being nice” is going to help you.”

      exactly. maybe this is what people close to the ‘suspect’ need to tell themselves to believe that the person they know and love couldnt have done a bad thing. a coping mechanism. then again, my dad told me the other day of all the things my mom said i am, nice isnt one of them LOL so maybe i dont have to worry about that perception with him.

  • Reply madscientist7 January 6, 2015 at 11:51 am

    great post. so no mention that i was the first one who tried to put you on??? lol

    i think people who binge listen versus people who listened week by week might have different opinions. also, i’m team adnan. not because i believe he’s innocent of killing hae min but because there’s too much reasonable doubt to say he actually did it. if anything i’m hoping he gets off in his retrial this month.

    i’m the same age as all the teenagers involved in this story and i remember the story vividly in the news when i was in high school. i can’t remember if i thought back then if he did it or not.

    • Reply Wu Young, Agent of M.E. January 6, 2015 at 12:35 pm

      Did this case go national?

      It reminds me of a case in my hometown from back in 2006. A kid kills his baby’s mother but there was no body. The local law enforcement types arrest him then let him go but a year or so later while the dude is in college he is arrested because his accomplice gets arrested for something else and then sings about burning the girl’s body at a local saw mill.

      • Reply gemmieboo January 6, 2015 at 1:00 pm

        wow. was the guy convicted??

      • Reply madscientist7 January 6, 2015 at 2:04 pm

        naw i don’t think it was national news but i happened in baltimore which was about 40 minutes from where i grew up.

        that case is crazy as hell. this is why if i ever commit murder (or any crime) i won’t have an accomplice.

    • Reply gemmieboo January 6, 2015 at 12:59 pm

      i guess i should put in an editor’s note that you were the first to tell me about it lol.

      i didnt binge listen intentionally, at first. i was just listening to an audiobook at the time, and i really wanted to finish it before the end of the year. and for some reason i thought the episodes were longer than they were. i think id actually prefer, in the future, to listen week by week. i love suspense and i really could use some extra time to disgest ALL the info. man, there was just so much!

      and i agree that i dont think the state had enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Adnan killed Hae. i dont think he should be surviving a life sentence based on what i heard. and its just another realization how the system – esp for people of color – is not really set up to sift through innocent or guilty, its just about what’s convenient and manageable. but i guess that’s both the blessing and curse of allowing your “peers” to judge you.

      that said… i do think its odd that Adnan doesn’t seem like his life has been thrown away by being locked up wrongfully (according to him), and that he seems at home, in a sense, in prison. then again, maybe thats 14years of being locked up does to a person…

      • Reply madscientist7 January 6, 2015 at 2:05 pm

        yea from speaking to people who have or are dong long prison bids its amazing how easy you can get used to being a ward of the state or country.

  • Reply Brandi January 6, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    I was so late to the party, but I am kinda glad because I was able to binge and listen to everything in like 2 days. I don’t trust Jay as far as I could throw him as my grandma would say. That case was so flimsy and it is so crazy to me he was convicted on the word of one person. I hope I am NEVER in a situation where it comes down to my word and the word of someone who claims they didn’t know me that well.

    I can’t wait to hear what happens this month after they review his case… I heard its supposed to go before a judge again.

    • Reply Gem January 6, 2015 at 8:04 pm

      girl you and me both!! did you read the recent interview of Jay with The Intercept?? he admits he lied. repeatedly. smh and the state didnt care! again, i dont think he’s lying about Adnan killing Hae (i think Adnan probably did do it) but i dont think his word is enough to send a man to prison FOR LIFE. sheesh!!

      so yeah, im looking to see what comes of this case, if it getds reopened. im all over it like white on rice!

  • Reply Lovely Paradox January 7, 2015 at 9:35 am

    I first heard about it on Pop Culture Happy Hour, where Linda and Gene were discussing the podcast about the podcast Serial. I have yet to get on it, but it’s in my queue for new podcasts to download!

    • Reply Gem January 7, 2015 at 12:33 pm

      omg i LOOOOOVE Pop Culture Happy Hour!! that’s my show! i get a lot of good reading/listening suggestions from that show too

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