"Going to trial with a lawyer who considers your whole lifestyle a crime in progress is not a happy prospect."
-- Hunter S. Thompson
When I wrote the May 2014 piece Where Are All The Feminists? Why Amanda Knox's Story Is About More Than Murder, I was well aware of how deeply polarizing this case has been over the past several years. This is evidenced by the many inaccurate pieces written on the Meredith Kercher murder, and for me, Selene Nelson's obtuse Huffington Post response, Why Feminists Owe Amanda Knox Nothing.
In her piece, she questions my knowledge of the case (all but two of her links to "evidence" direct readers to private, biased anti-Knox sites) and cleverly masquerades sexism as feminism. Nelson clearly doesn't see this, but she has wonderfully proven my original idea correct.
When I wrote, "Amanda Knox is innocent," I believed it. I continue to believe it. The innocence is clear once you navigate the twisted, false and misinterpreted information published every day. That's the issue. There's a lot of faulty reportage out there. Perhaps I too would have been led astray -- led to light the match beneath the witch's stake, if I didn't do my research. At this point, the analogy of the witch hunt is a tired trope, but unfortunately, it isn't any less real.
After publishing my piece, I have received a number of irrational, abusive tweets from anonymous Twitter handles (with suspiciously low followers) saying, "do your research" or "you're working for Knox's PR team." These tweets would be amusing (trolls are like bad TV) if they weren't such a vivid representation of malignant ignorance. Sending batty tweets and writing parochial articles in the name of justice for Kercher's death is wrong. If you have a bone to pick and you're using abusive tactics, don't do it for the dead.
Those that run anti-Knox sites -- whose misinformation clearly fed Nelson's righteous response -- host, as investigative journalist Nina Burleigh wrote, "extremely active avatars, many proclaiming to be lawyers, forensic experts, criminologists, but who never reveal their true identities" -- are even worse.
While Nelson hasn't attacked me and has been only respectful, I take issue with her claims. She writes details false or circumstantial evidence and discusses defamation suits, as if it's shocking that Italy would sue the parents of the defendant. This doesn't mean defamation actually occurred; it means Italy is defensive; the courts want to prove they've done a good job. Nelson's article will appeal to those who either don't know much about the case or late-night online forum trolls.
A telling digression: one of the more popular anti-Knox sites, TrueJustice.org, has been hit with some heavy cyber and sexual-assault allegations. I've seen some of the comments on the site, and it seems a dangerous place to have discourse. I once tried registering for the forums on the site, but they wouldn't allow me, stating that I was dabbling in illegal activity by sharing my opinion of the Italian court system. Not a crime. They also published a piece which called me a "faux feminist" and claimed, "A female's self-discipline in sexual matters is a hallmark of her personal self-respect and a sign she is able to envision her larger future as the wife of a dignified man."
If this is a site operating with "justice" in mind, there are some serious issues. Not least of which is their sexist and religious view on women's sexuality -- and their taking away of my feminism.
I may have fallen down the rabbit hole, but only after doing my homework. I considered the defendants' guilt and possible involvement, of course, but it simply didn't add up. At the end of the day, I can understand the various points of view, insofar as I can understand those who doubt global warming. It's difficult to step out of one's comfort zone. It's difficult to accept that esteemed forensic experts, FBI agents, lawyers and journalists all believe in Knox and Sollecito's innocence. But why? What hate-filled feelings are many projecting onto these defendants?
Why aren't we busier directing shock and anger at Rudy Guede's reduced sentence? This is a shocking move, even for Italy. Sentence technicalities can't even be argued here, considering the judicial system's unreliable performance and shoddy handling of crime materials.
I am, contrary to Nelson's claims, aware of those dog-tired points she touts to unknowing readers. But I know better, and most of that "evidence" was thrown out when the two were acquitted. When independent forensic analysts -- unaffiliated with the court -- found no real evidence, contaminated forensic samples, and no actual motive, that says something to me. The second conviction was all about scrutinizing a knife which was proven not to be the weapon and conjecture -- new motivation theories that couldn't possibly be proven.
Nelson fails to recognize that only Rudy Guede broke in and assaulted and killed Kercher. Her belief is not entirely unique, but it's frustrating when it contributes to an imagined reality. Is it really too difficult for us to accept that this man -- with his mental instability and criminal background -- singularly overpowered her? His DNA was the only DNA in the bedroom, after all. This happens to women all the time. Nelson's cries of "evidence" are all traced back to the anti-Knox sites Burleigh details in her TIME Magazine piece. These twisted facts are as biased as they are dangerous.
The DNA has never been there, and Nelson can't seriously argue that point. According to the New Scientist, "Neither Sollecito's nor Knox's DNA was found on the remainder of the bra, other items of Kercher's clothing, objects collected from Kercher's room, or in samples from her body -- although Guede's DNA was found everywhere."
Andrew Gumbel, an award-winning English investigative reporter and foreign correspondent, summed up the recent trial's verdict in his May 2014 Guardian piece, "Amanda Knox might get the retrial she deserves if anyone considers the facts." Although Gumbel worked with Sollecito on his recent book, Honor Bound, Gumbel still has 20 years of experience to back him up.
Not only has Alessandro Nencini, the presiding judge of the Florence appeals court, apparently resorted to the same tortured logic as his predecessors; he has also stated things as fact that are manifestly and provably wrong.
To read the new conviction report in detail is to enter a kind of alternate reality, where concrete facts appear ignored and alternate facts are seemingly plucked from the air.
...Judge Nencini claims that a partial shoeprint found at the murder scene comes from a size 37 women's shoe and must therefore belong to Amanda Knox. But this is not based on the available evidence.
Extraordinarily, Nencini argues that Knox and Sollecito must have wiped the place clean of their DNA (but left an abundance of Guede's) because no traces of Knox's DNA were found anywherein the apartment that she shared with the victim. But multiple samples of Knox's DNA were found and presented at trial; they just weren't found in the room where the murder took place....
...Nencini writes that the blade of the purported murder weapon -- a large kitchen knife found in Sollecito's apartment -- bore traces of both Kercher's and Sollecito's DNA. Again, this is at variance with the evidence. The most the prosecution ever asserted was that Kercher's DNA was on the tip of the blade. Sollecito's DNA has never been found.
This case is startlingly simple, but the prosecution (and the looming influential forces from the first trial) continually force their theories onto the facts. Many observers have projected their fears and biases onto these public personas, complicating even the most obvious of scenarios.
Beyond inaccurate information, Nelson grossly misinterpreted my most basic sentiments. I simply said that more feminists -- and feminist journalists -- should care about the Knox case.
Nelson writes, "Where, Basile wonders as she laments Knox's fate, are all the feminists? We're right here, Lisa. Basile's implication -- that those convinced of Knox's guilt do so because of gender prejudice -- is laughable. Not only does it demonstrate astonishing ignorance of the facts of this case, but Basile's entire article is suggestive of the role her own prejudice plays in forming her opinion of guilt or innocence."
How, I wonder, does Nelson somehow acknowledge the issue of slut-shaming but fail to reconcile how it has actually deformed the trial? It's as if she believes character assassination exists outside of the reality of the verdict. For Nelson, sexism is a bad, bad thing, but all that "Foxy Knoxy" talk she hates as much as I do couldn't possibly be a determining factor. When she agrees that sexism is bad but argues for the evidence, she has already lost. The evidence was determined by sexism and character assassination; the court very clearly twisted the scant information they had to fit their theory of the girl they hated.
Nelson's claims make no sense. Lest I remind readers that Italy's jurors are not sequestered and one's character is put on trial; if I were a juror allowed to be influenced by the hundreds of newspaper and TV programs calling Knox a whore, drug-addict, seductress or sociopath, I might actually have been biased too. Unsurprisingly, it turns out the judges were biased as well.
Gloria Steinem said, "We need to remember across generations that there is as much to learn as there is to teach." The case of Kercher's murder is built on and fed by puritanical, culturally judgmental mentalities. The first court case didn't teach anyone how to conduct a fair trial, and our latest judge clearly didn't learn much at all from those universally-recognized mistakes.
Nelson writes, "The vast majority of people who believe Knox is guilty do not figure her sexuality into their reasoning." Anyone can Google the case (click the link -- I've done it for you) to know how untrue that is. Unfortunately, forensic science can't prove sexism or anti-Americanism or humanity lost in translation, but anyone with a brain and some working knowledge of society and culture can see the very real role these problems played.
There has been quite a bit of tunnel vision around my article. Nelson and blogger Chelsea Hoffman have been the most outspoken. Fortunately, they do so in a civil manner.
The two suggest that I believe Knox is innocent simply because I'm a feminist. Their ideas ("how dare Basile allow Knox's PR spin, and her own wilful ignorance, to conceal that") are assumptive and outright flawed. They present a sort of false dillema as it relates to this case, suggesting that feminism is to a belief in innocence as anti-feminism is to a belief in guilt.
I spoke directly to the issue of feminism not because feminists have a bipartisan duty to support any woman -- guilty or innocent -- but because this case has such an anti-feminist undertone. They agree with that much. If I believed Knox to be guilty, as Nelson does, I would examine the sexism involved even then. However, I happen to believe that a) Knox is innocent and b) feminists have gone mysteriously quiet on Knox.
The thread, for me, is that sexism and cultural bias did actually did have a determining factor in the prosecution's la-la-land theories. A feminist lens was simply the most obvious lens to look through when examining the case.
Reporter Elizabeth Vargas spoke to this when she told Oprah that the first sexist allegations had a real impact on the case; "they had cemented a sort of negative opinion of Amanda."
Readers can see how far down the pipeline this character assassination goes; the recent (and ridiculous) "cocaine" headlines are totally unfounded, all linking back to the early portraits of Knox as a druggy seductress. No college student is an angel, but these allegations are just unfounded.
Nelson not only misinterpreted my thesis and my angle, she ignored whole sentences:
Nelson writes, "What Basile misses is the point that were Knox unattractive, let alone a minority or male, she would have a fraction of the support she has."
I am truly curious about this statement, considering I wrote, "Perhaps we wouldn't even be talking about the Knox case if she wasn't white and beautiful. This world spins on a white, heteronormative, image-obsessed axis, as does the justice system."
Nelson also reduces my motives; she claims I wrote the piece because Knox was "sexually active and good looking." That is a gross oversimplification. I defend Knox and Sollecito because a social injustice -- of the highest order -- has gone on far too long.
Feminism is not a weapon, and it can't be used against itself. Everyone deserves to be protected from misogyny and sexism. Nelson's headline, "Why Feminists Owe Amanda Knox Nothing" is a sad one indeed; guilty or innocent, if we don't examine the world around us and accept the possibility that long-standing social judgments do derail our justice systems, we will never affect change. Feminism is a simply a humanism.
Judging by the amount of support that Knox and Sollecito have received, I have to believe in humanity. I have to believe that their innocence will prevail.