When Culture Convicts

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Some additional real talk on cultural signifiers, the West Memphis Three, and Cameron Todd Willingham from quadmoniker at PostBourgie:

There’s another problem that ties both cases together, and that’s the bigger one. In the Willingham case, a taste in Led Zeppelin marked him as a killer. In the West Memphis case, the conviction that Satan worship was involved in the murder led to an angsty teenager who studied Wicca, Damien Echols. In fairness, we have to admit that we don’t know, and probably never will, whether any of these men — or for that matter, anyone exonerated by new evidence after a conviction — is totally innocent. But we should be suspicious of anyone found guilty for being weird. It might be especially true in small Southern towns, but it’s true everywhere, that being a little odd is enough to raise the suspicions of our peers. But we should hope we can design a system that counteracts that tendency rather than feed into it.

The worst thing that can happen when people make totally bogus assumptions about the influence of culture on behavior, like this, or like blaming the London riots or the Norway shootings on video games isn’t actually that those forms of media might face crackdowns. It’s that people can be imprisoned and executed in part based on those assumptions.