Attorney confronts bias in U.S. criminal justice system

By Nick Ferrara
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer

Adnan Syed is awaiting a new trial after being in prison the past 16 years for the alleged murder of his ex-girlfriend. One of his most prominent advocates said that spreading his story is the best way to free him and others who have been wrongly imprisoned.

Rabia Chaudry is an attorney, president of the Safe Nation Collaborative, and the co-host of the popular podcasts “Undisclosed,” which investigates wrongful convictions as well as the U.S. criminal justice system.

“We want to trust the system because if we don’t it’s terrifying,” Chaudry said during a speech on Nov. 2  at Towson University. “The power of human bias is that two people can be given the same facts and interpret it completely different.”

She focused on the impact that social media can have on the justice system and how people are more tuned in to the issues happening around them. People are more interested today than ever in bringing higher authority individuals to justice, she said.

“Mainstream media outlets are now watching social media for their next story,” Chaudry said. “All of the attention has a profound impact on the on-going cases that are being covered.”

Rabia Chaudry, an attorney and president of the Safe Nation Collaborative and the co-host of the popular podcasts “Undisclosed,” signs books during an event at Towson University. Photo by Nick Ferrara.

Rabia Chaudry, an attorney and president of the Safe Nation Collaborative and the co-host of the popular podcast “Undisclosed,” signs books during an event at Towson University. Photo by Nick Ferrara.

In  many cases like that of Syed’s, prejudice and bias can become an overlying issue.

According to Chaudry, there were almost 300 mentions of the word “Muslim” throughout Syed’s trial, which had nothing to do about his religion. He was asked about things such as how often he prays, his views on premarital sex, and other factors that had little to do with his murder accusation.

“Eighty percent of media coverage that refers to Muslims or Islam relates to terrorism,” Chaudry said. “Muslims are portrayed as violent, shown in rage and look helpless in the media.”

Muslims are amongst many other races and ethnicities that undergo bias on a daily basis in the United States, she said.

“We learn to accept everything we hear as true,” Chaudry said. “I do believe that there’s going to be a time in our history when we feel ashamed about Muslims who were wrongfully accused of being a threat.”

What the most popular podcast, “Serial,” did was tell a great story of a social issue in the country, Chaudry said.

The podcast’s main subject, Adnan Syed, is waiting for his new trial and the outcome will be pivotal to not only Syed, but Muslim-Americans in general, Chaudry said.

“If the appeal is not successful, Adnan is going to die in prison,” Chaudry said. “This is a death penalty if the new trial does not work.”

Over 100 students, faculty and other spectators filed into the Harold J. Kaplan Concert Hall in the Center for the Arts on Towson campus.

Most of the crowd consisted of students who had some insight on the presentation.

“I had heard of the “Serial” podcast and wanted to know more,” sophomore student Andrew Donner said. “She shed some light on information about Muslim-Americans and it really opened my eyes on how discriminated against they are in this country beyond terrorism.”

People in attendance seemed engaged and had many questions to ask at the conclusion of the event. Students of Towson were allowed to pick up a free copy of Rabia Chaudry’s book, “Adnan’s Story,” and they even had the opportunity to have her sign it.

“I followed the first podcast that came out called ‘Serial’ and I started following ‘Undisclosed’ after that,” Towson junior Ana Burcham said. “I was so excited to hear that she would be on campus tonight and that I would be able to get a copy of her book.”

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