I lost my capacity for shock and outrage over jury verdicts when O.J. Simpson was acquitted nearly 15 years ago. Since then I’ve tried vainly to stay out range of the cable TV “hot crime of the year” reality series, featuring everything from poor JonBenet to Laci Peterson, Natalee Holloway and then on inevitably to the sordid saga of Caylee Anthony’s apparently unsolved murder.
The victims are always white, pretty symbols of tarnished American innocence -- the small child defiled, the innocent mother, the virginal teen prom queen. Their smiles gaze at us from our TV screens from happier times, before they became the tawdry entertainment of a thousand rating points of television.
The accused murderer is then tried not by the state, but by Greta Van Susteren and the ironically named Nancy Grace and their panels of celebrity defense lawyers and hangers-on. Then they’re tried and convicted by each of us who hangs on every opinion, who sees in the sad arc of the now celebrity victim their own life, or the lives of those they know and love.
This vicarious journey into the minds of perpetrator, victim and judge is marketed and presented like any other reality show entertainment, complete with theme songs, hosts, and dramatic teases about what’s coming up after the next sponsor break. The ineffably sad duct-taped little skull or audio-taped jail conversations take their place alongside celebrities dancing in chiffon or crab fishermen on the Bering Sea. It’s just one more circus amid all of the bread and circuses that keep us distracted from more meaningful lives and substantive public dialogue.
O.J. Simpson and Casey Anthony both likely got away with murder. A savvy legal defense team can usually run rings around even the most dedicated prosecuting attorneys. Our system is designed to allow a guilty person to go free before it condemns an innocent one. The presumption of innocence and “beyond a reasonable doubt” should pertain to each and every one of us, whether a law-abiding Cobb County Rotary Club-going Sunday School teacher or the rotten Casey Anthony.
But if the sad, lonely death of a two-year-old in Orlando has kept your eyes glued to the TV and you feel let down and betrayed by “the system,” maybe it’s a good time to turn that box off and commit to spending some time and energy closer to home, where there are children at risk right here in our community. Children need help with tutoring after school, foster kids need a stable home.
Just up the road, Must Ministries is reporting record demand for their food pantry but also reports empty shelves. Many of their clients have children Caylee’s age, who won’t even have a can of beans for dinner tonight. A donated case of canned ravioli would go a long way. Cobb County Juvenile Court has a number of volunteer opportunities for the right person with the time to make a difference in the life of an at-risk kid.
Don’t bemoan our system because of this verdict. The jury system's flaws are many, and sometimes evil people get caught and then go free. Don’t doubt that Casey Anthony will have a reckoning somewhere down the line. And don’t doubt that there will be another innocent victim coming up for your entertainment, a perfect demographic fit for Greta and Nancy and the rest to continue this wretched reality series.