How Free is Speech?

Regardless of whether I’m studying political science or mass communication, the question of how free speech really is always seems to be relevant.

Another free speech debate has been ignited surrounding one of comedian Daniel Tosh’s stints at The Laugh Factory. The Sparknotes version of the story appears to be that Tosh made a joke concerning rape, a female member of the audience verbalized the statement “Rape jokes are never funny” and Tosh’s response appeared to be to make a comment about how funny it could be if said female audience member was gang raped right then. Given that I tend to not have a life, I was clearly not there and am borrowing the chain of events from the women’s blog and general mutterings on the Internet.

Since I see most things from Twitter these days, this only appeared on my radar when Tosh became a trending topic and currently remains one. There’s a lot of factors that seem to be at play with this controversy. Let me go on record with the following:

1. I’m indifferent to Daniel Tosh. I understand that comedians use different material for different purposes. I understand that some of that material may be conventionally distasteful or offensive. I don’t find Daniel Tosh amusing, but I don’t stray away from off-color humor.

2. For the most part, the way people treat religion and politics (as unspeakables) is the way I tend to treat conversations surrounding feminism and women’s rights. For varying reasons, past conversations have made me uncomfortable and I stay away from them. I believe in equality for everyone. Do I think we’re there yet? No. Generally, that’s all I will say on the subject unless I really like you.

The responses to this whole debacle seemed to split evenly between: Tosh should never have said what he said or he has the right to say what he said. All of this seems to operate under the assumption that the event itself is black and white.

Like life, these things are never black and white. The world tends to be shades of gray.

What was the woman doing when she spoke up? She says she was stating an opinion. Tosh thinks he was being heckled. Is there a right answer? Is it even relevant?

I’m not going to get into the discussion on Tosh using rape as material for a comedy show. The fact of the matter remains that through the First Amendment, within reason, he has the right to say what he wants.

The within reason part is where things get tricky.

Not all speech is protected. The Supreme Court has determined that there are several categorical exclusions of the right to free speech, among them an incitement to crime, fighting words and true threats. Generally, if what you intend to say is likely to provoke immediate violence or in some cases reasonable intimidation that may lead to provocation: you can’t say it.

If Tosh’s response to the women’s statement was “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped, by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now?” as stated in her blog…where does that leave us?

Her blog states that her exit amidst Tosh’s comments was “pretty viscerally terrifying and threatening all the same, even if the actual scenario was unlikely to take place.”

Despite her feelings, the 1969 case of Brandenburg v. Ohio struck down an Ohio statute because the statute was found to broadly prohibit the advocacy of violence rather than preventing likely imminent action. This seems to be where the line is drawn. As the situation is gray, the line seems dotted.

We make distinctions in some areas of media law based on whether an individual is classified as some variation of a public figure. (If I’m remembering my media law class accurately, you can be a public figure, a limited purpose public figure or an involuntary public figure. This has served to alert me that my media law book is missing. I digress.) If you’re considered a public figure, you face a higher burden of proof in defamation cases.

If we make distinctions in one area of media law, should we be applying that concept elsewhere?

In an era, where Celebrity Worship Syndrome is a rising phenomenon in psychology – are we at the point where we should expect public figures to be more conscious of their speech ands its potential effects?

3/90

Guilty.

My area of study has revolved around the legal and criminal justice systems. I find them to be horribly complex and terribly interesting. Oftentimes, things within the systems are not as simple as people perceive them to be, really comprised of numerous layers that often distort people’s understanding.

For those of you that have been asleep or under a rock, Jerry Sandusky was just found guilty of 45 out of 48 remaining charges, after the judge dismissed 3 from the original count.

The reactions have been varied, but they are anything but silent.

The majority of folks seem to rejoicing – feeling that the system has finally been restored, after the Casey Anthony debacle, justice has finally been served. Other folks, myself included, seem to be almost resigned. There’s a feeling of thankfulness or some positive feeling about the fact that some sort of healing process can begin, but what about all the damage that’s already been caused?

Society rejoices about a monster being put behind bars, but why are we focusing attention on the root of the cause? What about the victims and their families? What about the lives that have been ruined?

I didn’t follow the Sandusky trial. I didn’t follow the Casey Anthony trial.

I don’t watch the things as they unfold. I evaluate them once the process has ended, too many moving pieces to study at once. Each deserves its own careful consideration. It may be that I’m not at a point of my academic study where I can do that or it may never matter, this just may be personal preference.

These trials solidify my belief that I have no business as a lawyer. I can’t fathom trying to defend someone like Sandusky, much less in the smarmy way that his attorney seemed to have gone about it.

Our legal system is supposed to operate as an adversarial system. Public perception seems to dictate that the prosecution and defense counsels are charged with the same responsibility – proving that their side is correct. Each side is expected to advance their position to the best of their ability, but their responsibilities are different. Prosecutors work to “seek the truth and attain justice outcomes.” Their responsibility is to put the best case, ideally an impenetrable one, forward to withstand an assault from the defense counsel, who are expected to advocate on behalf of their client, regardless of if the party is guilty or not. The defense doesn’t need to put together a case, so much as it needs to poke holes in the prosecution. The system is generally perceived as a failure when the prosecution doesn’t tie up all the loose ends or leaves room for doubt. That’s why our legal standard is beyond a reasonable doubt.

This is another notorious case seemingly absent of guilt. What’s interesting are the circumstances that almost seem to have created a series of safeguards to ensure a guilty verdict. Namely, the fact that more accusers were surfacing. While  timing and personal choice are clearly at play here, all eyes appear to be on Matt Sandusky, adopted son of Jerry and Dottie. Matt went from advocating for his father to coming forward as another victim of abuse. You can’t try someone again for the same crime if you don’t like the outcome, but you can try another case with new players.

This whole thing becomes more complicated when you consider the Court of Public Opinion. A system of its own that has crucified Penn State’s involvement, or lack thereof. People are quick to lump the university as a whole, others choose to focus on the individuals that appear to have protected Sandusky. Again, we give attention to those who have done something wrong, rather than the people left behind. It’s easy to think that a verdict means everything is left in the past, but that’s not the case for a prominent university that will spend its time under a microscope as it polishes its tarnished image. The university as a whole doesn’t deserve to be punished for the actions of the few.

Sometimes the Court of Public Opinion can be more damning then the traditional court, especially if the verdicts aren’t in sync. With a case like this, the criminal justice system certainly overrules all.

Sandusky faces a minimum sentence of 60 years for the convicted charges and a maximum sentence of 442 years. Regardless of what he receives, he is essentially guaranteed a life sentence in prison. It is once he’s permanently in custody that our official criminal justice system gives way to an internal system.

It’s been a long-running joke that my area of study delves into prison. I’ll read whatever books I can, I’ll watch whatever documentaries I can and I’ll visit whatever prisons I can. This complexity within the system – the society itself, the hierarchy, the system of rules – has slowly developed into the focus of what I look at.

Correctional facilities may vary, whether they’re long or short-term institutions or their level of classification, but something’s remain constant. There may be an official hierarchy from the warden to the prisoners, but there’s a hierarchy that exists within the prisoners themselves. Much like other arenas of life, seniority becomes key. It’s no secret that there’s a great deal of crime that takes place within a correctional facility – these facilities are typically credited with breeding better criminals. Even if you walk in an innocent person, you will walk out a criminal at the end of your sentence. Adaptation becomes the only way to survive.

It’s not a formal sentence, but Sandusky received a death sentence tonight.

Sure, he’ll likely be put in protective custody as a well-known figure. Please say that like that has saved people with life sentences before. Crimes against children and the elderly are particularly disgraceful in prison. Within the prisoner court, there are no sentencing guidelines for these crimes. There is one sentence.

This is only the beginning of another conversation in, what has been, an apparently never-ending process. Snarky comments have begun, indicating that prison isn’t a punishment for Sandusky, he’ll end up enjoying his time there. Others have started the discussion on awareness of sexual abuse. Some lead the charge in making the conversation about equality within crimes, debating what the outcome may have been if Sandusky’s victims are females. Others wait, knowing that this isn’t over. There are civil cases to be heard. There is a rebuilding process to complete. There is healing to take place.

Tonight the focus shouldn’t be on Sandusky. It shouldn’t be about his wife, who is facing her own public scrutiny. It shouldn’t be about Joe Paterno, on the five-month anniversary of his death. It shouldn’t be about the Pennsylvania Attorney General. It shouldn’t be about Amendola. It shouldn’t be about the ousted Penn State administrators. It shouldn’t be about Penn State.

It should be about the victims.

Let this be about the people who are able and willing to come forward. Let this be about the people who may be out there that haven’t been identified. Let this serve as a larger message.

Let their voices be heard.

22/90

Have a Little Faith in [Humanity]

It seems to be a running joke between myself and…most everyone talks to me that I use the phrase “I hate everyone” as a default comment throughout my days. I shouldn’t do it. Hate is a strong word that shouldn’t be tossed around, regardless of the fact that I’m not serious when I say it. I also don’t hate everyone. (I hate one person and it took me twenty years to conjure that emotion. A story that’s neither here nor there, really.)

I’m part of the problem.

No one likes to admit that, but there it is. When I write about suicide, I tend to talk about the language associated with it. My flippant comments are part of the problem, just on a different section of the spectrum.

However, certain things happen and make me wonder…do I really like everyone on a daily basis?

I have my doubts about humanity as a whole. You can’t turn around without hearing about the terrible economy, unemployment rates, joblessness and the myriad of problems that seem to be connected, usually in the form of varying crimes. Nothing in the media, or our observable human behavior, seems to indicate that we adhere to the “Love Thy Neighbor” theory, instead we’re allowing Hobbes to have a mild victory party in his grave.

This video went viral earlier this week.  A group of middle school students bullied their elderly bus monitor – attacking her socioeconomic status and weight, accusing her of being a child rapist and advising her to go kill herself. (You all know me, we’ll revisit that another day.) This video seems to represent a myriad of things reflecting the state of humanity.

1. The Ugly

A cursory view of the video seems to indicate that this doesn’t appear to be an isolated incident. This doesn’t appear to be the first bullying instance that this children may have been involved in. An elderly woman trying to provide for herself was attacked for no apparent reason. Bullying itself is a psychological trauma. I’m sure the fact that these children advised her to “go kill herself” when her son had completed suicide ten years ago only added to this. (Dear Greek Life, and the rest of the world, this is the hidden harm referred to when Student Affairs professionals try to educate you about hazing. You don’t know everything about a person from the surface. Tread lightly.) Outraged people have now submitted death threats against the students and their families.

2. The Bad

The overarching questions seem to be “How?” and “Why?” Where did the students learn or obtain these insults and patterns of behavior? How does an individual come to the conclusion that posting a video of this nature (forgetting engaging in said behavior) is a good idea? There doesn’t seem to be a lot in the way of apologies or using this as an educational opportunity by the parents, families and school. (Yet. Admittedly, haven’t kept on top of this one.)

3. The Good

As of 3:00PM today, over $300,000 had been raised to send this woman on a vacation, or possibly retire. She indicated that she would likely donate the money.

It’s easy to focus on the Bad and the Ugly. There are numerous, and significant, problems there. But why can’t we focus on the good? Some college students donated the last remaining dollars in their bank accounts to this woman, knowing the harmful effect bullying can have. Why can’t we all have the same mentality of caring for one another, realizing the small actions can build into a larger concept.

Maybe it’s already happening. Maybe it’s just not widely acknowledged (a problem of its own – why do we focus on the negative?)

We can raise money for a bullied elderly woman. We can donate money to orphans in foreign countries. We can donate monthly to care for abused animals. We can see the rise of Kony 2012. Right now, families are having ice cream for dinner to celebrate a family’s dying wish for their child.

Why do we focus on the negative?

Why do we feel like we’re too small to make a difference?

I leave you all with this, what has now become my go-to “Makes You Feel Warm and Fuzzy and Like There’s Hope in the World” post.

And if we could keep it between us that I am capable of warm and fuzzy feelings, that would be great. Thanks.

UpdateThe bus monitor has now received free flights for herself and 9 others to Disney and a free Disney vacation.

21/90

“When You Know Better, You Do Better.”

In this blog (and in real life), I tend to have a pretty decent sense of humor. Dry and sarcastic (albeit sometimes witty and sardonic, at times), I try to keep myself and others laughing. I let it be known that I’m a serious person in general, which is why my style is more sarcastic and drawling, not “Hey, let me tell you a knock, knock joke.” If you want one-liners, I got you, boo. I just don’t do them on command.

Sometimes I picture my humor as a gas tank. On a good day, it starts out full. I gradually start to use it, occasionally filling it up as I go along in my days. But sometimes, when the perfect storm of things is brewing, the humor tank dwindles. Slowly and slowly until I’m running on Empty.

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe my gas light has come on.

What appears to be an indescribable funk, punctuated with some feelings of anxiety, seems to be manifesting itself into exhaustion. This contributes heavily to my inability to make jokes or generally make light of things so as to indicate that despite the look on my face at times, I don’t actually hate everyone and everything around me.

I’m sure you’re sitting there going, “Great. Eat a cookie, take a nap, do something you like – but what does this have to do with me?”

EVERYTHING, dear reader.

Perhaps I exaggerate.

But it does have an effect on what I choose to write about for the day. I generally take my writing here day by day. The content produced has been usually generated by something happening in the preceding hours of the day. I don’t typically have a stock reserve of topics to draw on. (Admittedly, I tried that last year and it felt like I was cheating on the 90 in 90 Challenge.)

I may not have a reserve of topics, but like in life, I have things that weigh on me constantly. Whether it’s my program of study, the general trials and tribulations of my lack of future plans or things that have happened in my life – ultimately, all things that have shaped me or are in the process of doing so – these things become the topics my mind wanders to when the humor tank is on empty, or pretty close to it.

I should take the hint from my serious posts – they tend to be the ones with the higher views, but as the expense of a lot of valuable energy.

My go-to serious topic has been suicide – whether it’s talking about language or the associated stigma, it was added to the list of things that have shaped me into who I am. I have so much more to say, a lot of it left over from the last 90 in 90 attempt, but it all became too much. Too much to try and figure out my life and then add on apparent suicide educator? Let a sista live and eat some chocolate. (Gas light is on, tank’s not empty yet, apparently.)

This concept of stigma has become more of a defining factor than I realized. It goes with the suicide link; a lot of my area of study has focused on the varying forms of stigma associated with the criminal justice system; but it also goes with my newest admission.

I go to therapy.

It wasn’t necessarily a voluntary decision, unless you define voluntary as my academic advisor stating that I need to, in which case – 100% voluntary. I was given little in the way of an option after my dad passed away; a parent dying when you’re young is all the reason you need, apparently. It took me about  six months, with some badgering and threats of meddling, before I made the call.

Why?

The stigma.

Not a whole lot of people like to admit they’re in therapy. I sure as hell don’t. People just assume there’s something wrong with you. I assumed that there was something wrong with me for being told I needed to go.

I’m going on the record as saying that’s not true.

I needed someone to process through losing my dad and my best friend. I needed to feel like someone understood me, especially since I was the first of my friends and the first of most of my close family members to have lost their dad. I knew things were never going to be normal again. I knew I needed to create a new normal, but I needed help. Help that I usually would’ve gotten from my dad. I don’t know if you all knew this, but I’m not a fan of asking for help. (And in other news, the sky is blue.)

I’ve thought for the past year, something has been wrong with me and my therapist was just waiting for a good moment to tell me. (I assure you, my logic is always flawless. If you disagree, the door is to the left…where the haters go.) Surely, my funks and little pits of anxiety mean something. I’m beginning to accept this could be my last year in the Lehigh Valley, which essentially means I would like to be done with therapy in a year. It took me a couple months to like this guy and maybe the full year to trust him, so really – there’s no time to restart this process. I have living to do. Chocolate to eat. People to annoy.

So last week, I decided to ask the simple question: “Is there something wrong with me?”

I received a very thoughtful, “Not at all.”

There was a logical explanation that followed. Explanations that I had nothing diagnostically wrong with me, using the DSM-IV as the guiding light. I’m in a period of grief. (I really like to take my time with things, make sure I’m doing them correctly, apparently.) But there’s no clinical diagnosis in my future.

So I did what any logical person would do.

Argued.

Because when you want someone to confirm that nothing is wrong with you and you get the answer you want, the appropriate response is to fight.

My stubbornness is one of my more endearing qualities.

At the end of the day, I’m grateful for an academic advisor that cared enough to make the suggestion (or mandate), who followed-up on it…constantly. An advisor who was willing to bend some of his personally imposed rules if that’s what it took to get me to go.

The people I’ve met at Lehigh have taken care of me.

Therapy’s given me the space I need to process through things, something I value, with the person most qualified to do it. It’s given me an outsider to talk to, someone who I know can’t reasonably placate me. It’s also made me more self-aware.

Self-aware about the fact that Father’s Day is coming up and I may not necessarily want to deal with that. Self-aware about the fact that I should consciously decide to maybe go to therapy weekly in June, instead of having a certain academic advisor suggest mandate points of the year when I go weekly. Self-aware about the fact that I’m okay. Self-aware about the fact that humor might be my coping mechanism, but so necessary.

Most importantly, self-aware about how I feel about all of this.

I have a tendency to take on too much. I really like to be busy. This has all been coming to a head with me figuring out my future; I currently fail to understand that not everything you like to do or care about has to be involved with your future career. Something about career vs. interests and additional passions or some wisdom that I haven’t absorbed yet.

I’m self-aware enough to know that I’m not turning around and running back for a psychology degree, enough to know that counseling or some other direct role with mental health is not what I want to do. I’m self-aware enough to know that it is something I’m passionate about.

I’m attracted to the thought of a PhD because I enjoy the concepts of teaching and mentoring. I may have a hard time reconciling what my future PhD program may look like, but I know that I can still take those concepts and apply them to all of the things that I was resistant to do a year ago.

Stigma is the problem. Education is the solution.

There’s over 70 days left in this blog semester.

Class is in session.

13/90

Thanks, Debbie.

If there was ever a blog post that I thought I would never write…this would definitely be one of them.

The world suffered a loss this weekend. Journalism lost a rising star, Lehigh lost a student and leader. Me? I lost one of my good friends, Debbie. I could write some horribly sad entry, but I won’t. Debbie wouldn’t have wanted that.

An expression I’m too used to seeing.

I first met Debbie when we were part of the 2009 Orientation Staff. It was the last year that the Lehigh Life skit component was included, and like so many things that have had a great impact on my life, that’s where my friendship with Debbie began.

To anyone who was on staff that year, Debbie’s Lehigh Life performance was one for the history books. What was intended as a vignette to demonstrate the potential issues associated with underage drinking became an excuse for Debbie to shine. What other person takes the lyrics to “Fire Burning” to turn it into a warning about excessive drinking (complete with her own over-exaggerated motions.)

I sometimes wonder if many people knew Debbie and I were as close friends as we were because our relationship was always a quiet one. (Yes, take a second to process that I used the words “quiet” and “Debbie” in the same sentence.) At a point when I was still painfully shy, loud and exuberant Debbie was overwhelming. She played a huge role in my finally breaking out of my shell and bringing out a bit of a rebellious streak during training.

We lost touch when Orientation ended, a path that most staff relationships tend to follow. In an extremely fitting fashion, it was the world of journalism that brought Debbie and I back together a year later when we found ourselves sitting next to each other in our mentor, Jeremy Littau’s, Media and Society Class. Surprisingly enough, we rarely caused trouble…except when we felt the need to judge everyone around us, which was about every 2 minutes or so. (Be thankful both of us weren’t on Twitter at that time. You likely would’ve hated us more than you hate Jeremy and I.) Our reunion was short-lived when my dad passed away and I disappeared from class for several weeks. Debbie was one of the first people to reach out to make sure that I was okay and to reassure me that she would help me get caught up. When it became clear my absence was going to be longer than either of us anticipated, she continued our judgmental text stream like everything was the same. Every Tuesday and Thursday between 10:45 to 12, I got a steady update about all the hijinks taking place in class. She didn’t acknowledge that I wasn’t in the room; it was like I was sitting across from her as always. (Jeremy, I speak for us when I say #sorrywerenotsorry.)

Debbie and I racked up some quality library time when we both decided to torment work with Jeremy for independent studies the following semester. While our judging had moved from the chairs in Neville to the tables of Fairmart, our conversations sometimes took a more serious turn. Sometimes the conversations were about #J391 and the fear of letting down our mentor, but most of the time, one had sensed the other was in a “mood.” Some days we argued. Nothing serious, just about who was going to change their major. (I liked to write, she liked to argue, we both made our cases. Yes, I always lost.) For Debbie, it was never about a major, it was about her future.

I sit at a table in Fairmart writing this post and I’m in direct eye line of the table that plays a starring role in arguably, my favorite Debbie story. It was finals week and for those of you unfamiliar with the hell that is Fairmart, it becomes a more cutthroat arena than usual. Unless you’re here the first day of finals, acquiring a table is as easy a feat as winning the Hunger Games. People will try to save tables or mark their territory with books when they leave to go take an exam, sleep, etc. However, one table didn’t quite get the memo. The table had piles of crumpled up paper, scattered wrappers and two pencils.

Enraged probably didn’t even begin to describe Debbie. After bitterly exchanging some venomous texts from our less than desirable locations, it was time to make our issue public. Debbie posted a picture of the offending table to Facebook, warning the culprit that it was only a matter of time before she  claimed the table. (Looking back, this seemed like a reasonable approach given how many connections Debbie had.) While we waited for the then-named “stupid idiot” to return, Debbie left them a note. I don’t remember the exact content of the note, but I do remember the firestorm that resulted. I remember Debbie being a combination of angry, upset and entertained by the idea that she was being labeled as a racist. For someone that was so comfortable in her own skin and just wanted to help others feel the same, the accusation was laughable. So much so that it was the subject of one of the last conversations I had with her.

Within hours of her death becoming public knowledge, the true impact Debbie had on this campus became blatantly obvious. Every person had a different story to tell, but they all centered around the same Debbie: genuine, larger than life, obnoxious, sarcastic, tells it how it is Debbie. Her death reiterates that the Lehigh community is so much more than that, it’s a family. Everyone is dealing in their own way, but it’s understandable to see someone upset or to be comforted by a perfect stranger (like I was today. Thank you!)

I struggle with a lot of things. I struggle with the sheer idea that she’s not here. I wonder who’s going to help me write antagonistic notes during finals or help me irritate Jeremy on Twitter. I wonder who’s going to yell at me that I’m no fun because I never went to Sotto’s karaoke with her. I wonder who’s going to try and switch my soda because she swore by Diet Coke. More importantly, I struggle with how to grieve. Crying just seems natural at this point, but then I hear Debbie yelling at me, either to punch me in the face or something far too inappropriate for this entry. (She always said appropriate was a word she wasn’t familiar with.)

When my dad passed away, I struggled with the idea of signs. I was desperate for any clue that he was still around. With Debbie, it’s a lot easier. I can still hear her. I hear her yelling at me as I cry. I hear her making fun of the kid that was singing to himself as I walked to work this morning. And like Sarah, she appears to have taken over my Spotify account. I made it for weeks without ever hearing the songs “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” or “Gold Digger,” but I was treated to those songs multiple times (with different covers) during my two hours at work this morning. Message received, Debs.

There’s very little I can say that hasn’t already been said; Debbie was a fabulous person. She was one of a kind, and the kind of person you can only hope to come across in a lifetime. She was self-motivated, but never selfish with her success – she would have her hand out to take everyone with her, if she could. (I’m one of, I’m sure, several people she convinced to consider and/or apply to Columbia for graduate school.) The more, the merrier. Always.

I know Debbie knows I’m struggling. She always knew and apparently, still does. Thanks, Debs for every single person you sent to check in on me. It appears we’re still going to have our usual struggle about who needs to take care of who. Twitter will probably be devoid of our usual shenanigans; #garlicknots just don’t seem as appealing as they usually are, but we’re working on making you on trending topic. (Edit: You did it. This is my surprise face.) Your story in the Brown and White has already had over 10,000 views, Miss Popular.

I won’t be at your funeral on Thursday, Debs. There isn’t enough Advil in the world for me to handle the screaming I’d hear if I did go. Instead, I’ll be sitting in Media and Society. Just like old times.

Rest easy, beautiful. Miss you more than words could express.

P.S. Thanks for the angry librarian yelling at the student who left her laptop charger to save a table. Nice touch with the pink scarf.

#notguilty

This post is one likely to inspire some controversy, but I’m okay with that. I also thought I was going to have some more time to post this, but I’m feeling a bit of a crunch because one of my professors is being published on this very issue and let’s be serious, he’s smarter than I am. Let’s hope if he ever finds this blog that I did his classes justice.

I didn’t heavily follow the Casey Anthony trial. I wasn’t at Jeremy status where I was completely out of the loop, but I knew enough. For various reasons, I couldn’t watch the trial live and was content to receive updates through Twitter. I was in a meeting with my supervisor, conveniently about to begin another lesson on how to effectively utilize Twitter and explore Tweetdeck, when that application blew up with the Casey Anthony verdict.

Needless to say, most people were shocked when the verdict was read.

I wasn’t.

I owe that to all the law classes I’ve taken. My personal belief on Casey Anthony’s guilt aside, people seem to be forgetting the idea that not guilty does not mean innocent.

Our legal/criminal justice system is an extremely interesting one. (At least, to me. But I already told you, I’m a hopeless law nerd.) Our system is labeled as an adversarial process, meaning that the two sides act in opposition to another, not to prove one right and the other wrong, but to aide the other parties in discovering the truth.

The legal standard utilized in criminal cases is that of beyond a reasonable doubt, which means that if the prosecution can’t produce a case that doesn’t cause a reasonable individual to doubt or question some part of it, the jury is obligated to find that individual not guilty. (That in and of itself is ridiculous. How do you even begin to define reasonable doubt?) The defense doesn’t have to prove the prosecution wrong, they just need to punch enough holes in the other side – in essence, creating/identifying/producing that reasonable doubt.

Not guilty doesn’t mean innocent. It just means some variation of the prosecution not doing as great a job as they could have or not having enough evidence, witnesses, etc. to eliminate the principle of reasonable doubt.

I came across an interesting article, where the prosecutor and a brave alternate juror spoke out about the case (Note: the article has been updated to include other juror input, through which they make the same clarification that not guilty doesn’t mean they found her innocent.) While surprised by the verdict, even the prosecutor agreed the greatest obstacle was the lack of a cause of death. That’s enough to punch a hole in any case, let alone one constructed on what’s been deemed circumstantial evidence.

I’m fascinated by this entire process. Part of the reason I can’t pick a research topic is because I want to know everything about this damned, crazy system.

Regardless of the outcome or my feelings about it (of which, I’m not sure I have any, really) I respect the jurors. While I’m still a little hesitant about just over ten hours of deliberation for a six-week case, they proved to abide by the responsibility they were given: to determine if Casey Anthony was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

I can empathize with them for all the time I’ve spent on Lehigh’s conduct board. I’m aware some of the decisions I’ve made have cost me some relationships, but at the end of the day, it’s a price I paid. What makes it even more difficult is to remain silent. To not be able to defend yourself, to explain your actions or to address rumors that result from the case you’re on. I’ve left cases where individuals appeared to get a slap on the wrist in comparison to what they were charged with. The rumor mill at its finest can exacerbate some of this, but there have been a handful of cases where I’ve left sick to my stomach about everything involved.

We won’t know what went on during the jury’s deliberations, but it shouldn’t matter. They made their decision, the same way the media and public made theirs.

Casey Anthony was tried in two courts: the traditional and the court of public opinion.

The traditional found her not guilty, the court of public opinion said otherwise. And in some ways, the latter may be more damaging.

She’ll always be labeled as a child murderer. She’s leaving prison, but she’ll enter social isolation. It’s hard to imagine her forming relationships, much less maintaining those with her family. I can only imagine what would become of her apparent desire to have more children, whether biological or adopted.

But the media that crucified her will be the same ones to save her. She’ll undoubtedly earn money from books, public appearances, etc. I’d encourage you all to read Jeremy’s post from yesterday. Think about the message this type of behavior sends. We identify this woman as a murderer, but we’ll continue to financially support her through this morbid curiosity we have.

Wouldn’t our time and attention be better focused elsewhere?

19/90

On A Serious Note

I was all set to write about the equality #win that just took place in New York, until I went to work this weekend and saw some of the paper headlines and realized that’s it’s about time to write about something hiding in my closet first.

What were the headlines? From some of the New York papers: a woman tried to commit suicide but was grabbed by police after she jumped. From some of the local beach papers in New Jersey: a young man committed suicide while in prison for drug possession. These are things that I imagine people enjoy with their morning coffee.

I studied this during my Media Ethics and Law class. No one tell Professor Olson, but I don’t exactly remember anything we talked about. For what I think is a valid reason though.

I’m a suicide survivor.

What this means is that someone in my close family (by blood or by fate) has cause of death: suicide listed on their death certificate. I’m extremely careful in my wording here because the terminology of “committing suicide” is contentious in most “survivor circles.” (I’m wading through this new little unwanted club I’m in as best as I can.)

I’d been toying with this post for awhile. It’s part of who I am now, this isn’t a piece of my identity I can change. However, I now notice myself jumping or starting when I hear people make offhand comments about how they’d rather kill themselves than go to an exam or they could slit their wrists out of boredom. I’m not off to to get up on a self-righteous podium because I know I don’t deserve to be there. I’ve made a couple of those comments, not that extreme, but they’ve been said. What I seek is understanding.

There’s a stigma associated with suicide that continues to boggle my mind. It’s a large part as to why I keep this particular identity card so close to my chest. There’s a good level of variation with that stigma as well, one I stumbled on in a political science class last semester. For some people, like war veterans, the stigma is eased – because of their public experiences and the sheer magnitude of feelings from participating in a war, these are more valid situations for suicide than someone suffering from a mental illness. Those with mental illness are viewed as quitters; they just gave up.

(As an aside, PTSD, which most war veterans come back with…is a mental illness. So where’s the difference? And more importantly, who are any of us to make judgments or evaluations on people’s lives. Everyone faces a daily struggle of some kind, only you can evaluate your own struggles and successes. No one else.)

I haven’t had this role long, but I daresay stigma is 95% of the problem. It’s because of this stigma that people are less inclined to get help. It’s probably because of that that my family, friends and I had no idea this particular individual was suffering. The other 5% is probably just a lack of understanding. Mental illness is complicated. It’s usually defined as a spectrum, making it difficult to define if you’re having a bad day or if there’s an underlying issue.

I don’t know what it will take to fix either, but I have this newfound proactive nature that fuels me to make sure no one else will find themselves in this situation. And now I speak selfishly of myself because that’s how this whole thing started. I don’t know how to get help for those suffering, but for those who we’ve already lost: respect their families and friends.

Do you know how hard it is to mourn the loss of a family member or dear friend, in general? Let alone when suicide is the cause? Fortunately, (because this particular loss isn’t discussed in that context) none of us have had to hear those comments, at least not directly.

That Media Ethics class? There was an hour we sat discussing what those headlines and pictures do for media and the conversation turned to the families. And there was a student who was particularly…I don’t know what the politically correct term is, but I wanted to hit her. I don’t usually have these emotions (I was also still fairly emotionally charged from the entire situation.)

Comments like the person was selfish or wasn’t thinking of their family and friends, that they must have been a weak human being to be able to “man up and just deal like everyone else.” Comments like the person wasn’t loved or just starved for attention. Those are just a snippet, but those are just the seeds. There have been many more, and far uglier comments.

Who is that helping? Certainly not me. And certainly not anyone else in this awful club.

All I ask is: think before you speak. You never know who’s wandering among you and what they’ve suffered or may be going through. Whether intended or not, your words and actions have an impact that reach a farther net that you may have intended to cast.

Educate yourselves. That’s part of the battle.

Those of you who may be suffering from mental illness, or think you might be, there’s help available. There’s also a network of supporters, who walk quietly next to you.

11/90