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HomeNewsAdnan Syed faced racial stereotypes in court that weren't scrutinized, experts say

Adnan Syed faced racial stereotypes in court that weren’t scrutinized, experts say

Following Adnan Syed’s launch from jail Monday, after greater than twenty years combating his conviction for the homicide of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, specialists and advocates are calling into query the way in which his race and faith had been framed in courtroom throughout his trial. 

Syed’s background as a Muslim from a Pakistani immigrant household not solely formed the trial, they are saying, however had been instruments the state used to assist convict him. 

“It appeared like what the prosecution did is it made an intentional option to substitute Islamophobia and racial bias for proof,”  Mano Raju, San Francisco public defender and a member of the South Asian Bar Affiliation of North America, instructed NBC Information. “The conviction was based mostly largely on references to race and performs to racism.”

A Maryland circuit courtroom decide vacated Syed’s convictions attributable to new proof that would’ve impacted the end result of the case. Syed, 19 years previous on the time, was handed a life sentence after the physique of Lee, 18, was discovered buried in Baltimore’s Leakin Park in 1999. Now 42, Syed, whose case was dropped at nationwide consideration by household good friend and legal professional Rabia Chaudry, and made the topic of widespread 2014 podcast “Serial,” had his convictions of homicide, kidnapping, theft and false imprisonment vacated. 

Prosecutor Becky Feldman denied NBC Information’ request for remark. In her arguments in courtroom Monday, she questioned cellphone tower knowledge that was alleged to have positioned Syed on the park the place Lee’s physique was discovered, one of the vital essential items of proof within the preliminary conviction. 

“The state has misplaced confidence within the integrity of this conviction and believes that it’s within the curiosity of justice and equity that his convictions be vacated,” she stated. 

Officers escort Adnan Syed from the courthouse following the completion of the primary day of hearings for a retrial in Baltimore on Feb. 3, 2016.Karl Merton / Baltimore Solar by way of Getty Photographs file

Racist stereotypes in courtroom

Throughout the trial in Baltimore that culminated in his 2000 conviction, prosecutors made tons of of references to Adnan’s race and faith, introducing him to the jury by saying, “The defendant is of Pakistani background, he’s a Muslim,” although Syed was born and raised within the U.S. 

“The proof didn’t essentially stack up, however folks’s assumptions in regards to the probability that he would do one thing like that performed a giant function,” Simran Jeet Singh, director of the Aspen Institute’s Faith & Society Program, instructed NBC Information. 

Attorneys for the state of Maryland even implied he dedicated the homicide due to his non secular beliefs, stating “his honor was besmirched,” a stereotype usually weaponized in opposition to Muslim males.

“It was a method to inflame racial and spiritual prejudice in opposition to a brown Muslim man,” Raju stated.

Beliefs about misogyny and the Muslim neighborhood may have factored into the case, stated Saher Selod, writer of “Ceaselessly Suspect: Racialized Surveillance of Muslim Individuals within the Conflict on Terror” and an affiliate sociology professor at Simmons College. Whereas she stated she’s unable to definitively decide whether or not it influenced the end result, she stated it’s widespread for these tropes surrounding immigrant communities to be exploited. 

“That is one thing that has been used to justify colonialism going means again … This notion that males of coloration, males coming from Asian, South Asian cultures, are inherently misogynistic in the direction of their ladies, which justifies the intervention that should happen,” Selod stated. “It constructs ladies as inherently abused whereas on the identical time setting up males because the abusers. There’s only a lengthy historical past of that that’s tied to the prison justice system.”

Raju stated he thought the prosecution made certain the jury noticed Syed as a foreigner whose race and faith made him extra disposed to violence.

As a protection legal professional, Raju stated he is aware of how attorneys deliberately decide their courtroom language. The racist canine whistles utilized in Syed’s trial are one thing he’s seen many instances earlier than: when folks of coloration are charged with a criminal offense, race instantly turns into an element. 

“This can be a sample,” he stated. “What the prosecutors attempt to do is make up for a scarcity of proof, and so they hope that concern will fill the hole.”

In 2016, a decide granted Syed a brand new trial, a movement that was later reversed, after his legal professionals argued that his unique protection crew had been grossly negligent — failing to query weak proof or introduce the testimony of an alibi. 

Whereas Raju stated he couldn’t converse to that legal professional’s efficiency, he famous that protection counsel throughout the board must be able to fight racism in courtrooms usually. 

“When prosecutors are functionally dishonest as a way to cut back the burden of proof, they’re principally saying, ‘If I scare the jury sufficient, if I fan racism and spiritual bias on this courtroom, then the jury will convict, although the case isn’t confirmed past an affordable doubt,’” he stated. “One factor I believe is essential is that we fund public defenders effectively sufficient so we will counter these sorts of techniques.”

No robust organized South Asian American motion on the time, advocates say

Advocates have stated on the time of Syed’s trial these within the South Asian American neighborhood might have been hesitant to talk to authorities. Worry and mistrust between the South Asian immigrants and authorities — usually knowledgeable by traumatic experiences with legislation enforcement of their dwelling international locations — meant there wasn’t an organized effort on the time, Singh stated, calling consideration to what they noticed as racist and coded language. He additionally stated the neighborhood wouldn’t have had authorized literacy or the vocabulary to name out injustices.  

“It’s simply not one thing that folks talked about or knew, except for those that lived it. There wasn’t actually language and there weren’t actually frameworks round these points,” Singh stated.

Whereas the prison justice system continues to be marred with systemic racism, South Asian and Muslim communities are higher geared up with the instruments to problem injustice or unfair therapy, Singh stated. 

“The stereotypes are nonetheless as a lot alive at this time. And the anti Muslim tropes are as a lot alive at this time as they had been when Adnan was convicted,” he stated. “What’s totally different is that communities have been constructing their inner power and so they have extra potential to advocate for themselves, to hunt recourse, to higher affect.” 

Raju says he combats prosecution stereotypes within the courtroom by bringing in neighborhood specialists to make clear them.

“The jury will truly perceive [that] what this prosecutor is saying about Muslims, about Pakistani males, is definitely not true in regards to the tradition,” he stated. “So that you’re not simply asking the jury to not undertake racist views, however you’re truly filling the courtroom with views which might be far more near the reality.”

Syed’s case revealed power issues within the system, Raju stated. Not solely on the subject of racism within the courtroom, but additionally about excessive sentencing and coercive police questioning of minors. 

California handed the Racial Justice Act in 2020, empowering defenders to problem racial disparities in arrests, charging and sentences. If mirrored across the nation, this legislation has the potential to guard different younger folks of coloration who might need been in the identical place as Syed, Raju stated. 

“It was a wonderful day when Mr. Syed was launched,” he stated. “Nonetheless, we will’t lose sight of the truth that there are wrongful convictions occurring each single day, in courts all throughout this nation.”


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