By Jake Kind, Univ. of Pennsylvania, class of 2020
When Amanda Knox captured the world’s attention from a small cell in Italy, I had had no idea that wrongful convictions existed. During the time of her trial in 2007, I was a happily ignorant, mostly white (part Filipino), 10-year old male growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia. For me, the greatest of my problems stemmed from trying to allocate time to read about Harry Potter and his fight against the psychotic man, who I probably should not name. I had heard blips of Foxy Noxy’s story here and there, but it was not until I watched the Knox documentary that I really began to understand the implications of the trial.
After watching the documentary, for me, multiple discrepancies and issues surrounding the trial and investigation are now clear. A sheer disregard for the sanctity of the crime scene pervaded every level of the investigation. A sexist, femme fatale eroticism glazed over every aspect of the media’s coverage of the trial. A language and culture barrier impeded “proper” legal process. A romanticized viewpoint of crime blinded the lead investigator with an appetite for fictitiously evident traces of guilt. And so, collectively, an assumption of guilt uprooted the presumption of innocence.
With all of this being said, what struck a chord with me after processing the documentary, were the similarities and differences between Knox’s experience and the reality of wrongful convictions in Philadelphia. In general, many of PaIP’s cases do see a similar disregard for the sanctity of a crime scene, as well as language and culture barriers and inherent biases that blind investigators. Those are all pertinent issues that as proponents of change, we must resolve as a community if justice is ever going to be enacted. Nonetheless, another issue stuck with me from watching the documentary. I found a striking discrepancy between Knox’s case and our own pop-culturally mainstream views on wrongful convictions.
Those who are not exposed to culture clashes between law enforcement and communities see wrongful convictions through a lens smudged by racial, sexual, and class-related stereotypes. Many people, and I must be cautious and conscious of my own generalizing, assume that non-white males of a lower socio-economic standing are those most affected by wrongful convictions. Knox’s case upended that assumption to a certain degree. Her trial was centered around a white, socially beautiful, college-educated woman. Yet, we still found methods to fit her story into an almost archetypal plot of feminine revenge.
The United States suffers from a severe epidemic of mass-incarceration of non-white males and a deeply institutionalized racist ideology. And what the Amanda Knox documentary began to establish for me, was that the catalytic forces that have created this epidemic are in effect, also pulsating beneath the wrongful convictions of people much like Amanda Knox.
There is a lack of training, attentiveness, and patience that is contributing to a sheer disregard for the sanctity of the crime scene and the differences in culture and language between those in power and those subjected to that power. There is a parasitic bug infecting our media, which produces entertainment instead of information. There is a romanticized viewpoint, that does not just blind investigators, but rather blinds judges, jurors, and sectors of the public into craving dramatic realism and a clean, fantastic story. And horrifyingly, there is a complete rejection of the presumption of innocence and a warm welcoming to the assumption of guilt. This must change.
In the documentary, Knox states, “There are those who believe my innocence and there are those who believe in my guilt. There’s no in-between – either I’m a psychopath in sheep’s clothing or I am you.” I wonder if we can find an excitement and enticement in seeing ourselves in others; for how can we combat injustice when we consume the perverse engagement of the hunt for the hidden psychopath?