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The Partiality for Bias: Why Understanding Bias is Integral to Discussing Innocence – guest post by Jake Kind

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A few weeks ago, I wrote an article titled “What I learned from Watching Netflix’s Amanda Knox.” The piece examined the relationship between the debate of Knox’s innocence and our own fight to protect the innocent in Pennsylvania. I am thankful that my article has created another medium of dialogue to discuss innocence. I want to extend that discussion to incorporate a discourse on how we interact with bias and how that interaction impacts our own perceptions of innocence.

In response to my article, two accounts posted these comments:

Jake Twitter feed

I understand the point of view Bernier holds; however, it is exactly that categorizing of different people into groups that feeds the corruption of innocence and the deterioration of our judicial systems. Of course the documentary on Knox has bias, as do all artistic creations that depict representations of the past. We can only know the past through recollections of experience that evolve as we leave the past. Nonetheless, it is our responsibility as thoughtful and analytical observers to navigate through the different influences and components of the artistic piece to base our opinions of innocence not solely on “selectively edited and biased program(s)” but on a collection of evidence and human experience.

In a judicial case lawyers present a depiction of reality through storytelling apparatuses, such as pieces of evidence, witnesses, and experts in certain fields. In turn, the judge or each jury member amasses a personal collection of information that he/she then uses to form a decision.  Every judge and juror has an individual bias and viewpoint.  As does every lawyer, defendant, and expert.  Even non-human forms of evidence promote an argument that can be manipulated to lean a certain way.  That is how we practice law.  In turn, bias pervades even the sanctity of the courtroom.

And yet the courtroom is the public, socially authorized representation of our own innate decision making processes. When we form our opinions on innocence and other concepts, we collect information from evidence. This evidence stems from our relationship to fact and our understanding of our own human experience. And, this evidence is biased.

Nonetheless, in school we are taught to not be biased, to find unbiased sources for projects, and to regard bias as a dangerous concept that clouds our judgement. We are taught to avoid bias and to treat bias as inherently negative. And as students, we blindly accept this lesson. Yet this action hinges on a kind of escapism and circumvention of ugly and poorly outlined realities. However, those realities are themselves still components of our collective human experience.

Consequently, how can we tackle debates on innocence and engage in just legal pursuits if we avoid a whole spectrum of human experience’s relationship to reality?  There seems to be a fear of bias generated by the underlying assumption that all bias is negative.  Yet, I would argue that we interact with our surroundings through an outer layer of individualized bias.  And this bias and the biases of others should not be ignored or looked down upon, but rather these biases should be acknowledged as innate components of how we form our opinions.

This realization serves a vital role in creating a personal understanding of innocence; for judgement rests upon a perception of reality.  And if we are going to work to right the wrong for people like Donte Rollins and countless other wrongfully convicted victims, we must understand our own partiality for bias.