The Staircase, a documentary created by Academy Award-winning filmmaker, Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, features the heartbreaking, yet intriguing true story of Kathleen Peterson’s suspicious sudden death. Her death originally appeared to be caused by an accidental tumble down the staircase of her house. After further investigation of her death, it became quite clear that her fall was anything but accidental. Michael Peterson, Kathleen’s husband was accused and convicted of her murder, due to the suspicious conditions surrounding her death (which are detailed within this documentary). This documentary examines this case in full, looking at multiple perspectives. After looking at the facts of the case through the different lenses presented in this documentary (which include details on lawyer interactions, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the Peterson’s family-life, and other facts surrounding the case that swayed the jury to convict), viewers eyes are opened to the fact that things are not always what they appear to be after just a first look. There is a shocking twist to the story, as years later it is discovered that evidence used in the case to convict Michael Peterson was not handled properly. For anyone who enjoys getting an inside look at America’s criminal justice system, this is a series worth watching.
The question that I would like to pose however, is not whether or not our criminal justice system is flawed, as I believe that this is a question which we can all answer for ourselves. The question is, is this helpful? Is it important for everyday citizens of this country to have an inside look at the criminal justice system that is supposed to be protecting us and helping to maintain a stable society? My answer is yes. We as American citizens have a right to know how the criminal justice system is helping and hurting us, because it impacts our everyday lives in so many ways. True crime specials provide more details about recent criminal events in our society, and help to educate us American citizens about how the criminal justice system works. But there is also so much more to it than that. Documentaries such as The Staircase, are interesting in the fact that we are given an inside look at the criminal justice system and how it works. What is so intriguing about true crime media though, is that often times it not only reveals flaws in the criminal justice system, but opens eyes to where there is room to improve society as a whole, and to how we can be a part of the change to fix these problems. For example American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson is another true-crime special that not only acknowledges flaws that occur during investigations (such as the hindrance of evidence); but also brings to light huge issues like racism, sexism and prejudice, which effect so many people in our society today. True crime specials featuring the American Justice System, help Americans to not only be educated on the crimes that are hurting our society, but on the societal roots, biases and problems that lead to these crimes that impact us all. That is why true crime is indeed helpful. It shows us that there is so much more to things than what we initially see, and that it is not just law officials and police officers, but it is all of us that can help to be a part of the change; to stop people from being hurt and helping others through the ways that we all choose to think and live our lives.
As Christians, we are called to live above and beyond the simple standards of this world. We are called to stand out, to show people the love of Jesus through the way we live our lives. Sometimes we become so distracted and caught up in ourselves, that we lose sight of this mission. True crime media opens our eyes to the problems occuring in our society, so that we can be aware of the areas that we can work on, where we can be the change that others need. In Matthew 5:14, the Bible says “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill can’t be hidden.” So my challenge to all of us in all that we do, is that when we take the time to educate ourselves on what the issues are, let’s not forget to act. Let’s be the change that our society needs; because that is who God has called us to be.