Opening Statements

When I think about the arrangement of Burn’s narrative, I think about the court cases she so meticulously recounts. In hindsight, her structure is reminiscent of a lawyer presenting her case to a court–though in this case, her court is a court populated by a jury of her readers. She gives context, lays out a timeline, labors over describing every relevant conversation and relationship, provides an account of her opposing sides argument, rebuts it, and so on. I can easily see this an trial attorney’s oration.

Perhaps the most interesting and telling part of this arrangement is her consideration of the idea, both at the begging and at the end of the narrative, that this is a narrative about the justice system at large. This might be seen as the “means and motive” part of her rhetorical exercise. How is it that such a grave miscarriage of justice could have occurred? Not because of any one officer’s fault. But rather, because the justice system had the ability to create such a failure. Just as a mass shooter can’t wreak the carnage he does without an AR-15, a justice system can’t easily convict five innocent young men without systematic flaws that fail every safeguard. A prosecutorial lawyer must prove that an accused had the means to commit the crime–and this is precisely what burns arranges her narrative to prove.

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