Sarah Weinman’s 2020 true crime anthology, Unspeakable Acts, used the true crime genre as a startling, sometimes terrifying mirror to accurately reflect humanity’s desire to both enact and consume violence. Evidence of Things Seen: True Crime in an Era of Reckoning now extends the themes explored in that anthology, confronting the thorny question of what we should do with this knowledge of society’s darker impulses.
The book’s title is a riff on James Baldwin’s 1985 essay on the Atlanta child murders, “Evidence of Things Not Seen,” which examined how, in a city “too busy to hate,” racism still blinded police, media and politicians to the humanity of the victims, their grieving families and the accused. In this vein, every essay in this book takes it as a given that forces such as social media, misogyny, racism and classism play essential roles in how we perceive crime, from the commission of the crime itself and our perceptions of the victim to the penalties for the wrongdoers. Then the essayists explore the implications of those truths.
For example, Samantha Schuyler’s “The Short Life of Toylin Salau and a Legacy Still at Work” links the invisibility of Black victims of rape and murder to the violent and racist policing of communities of color. In “Who Owns Amanda Knox?” exoneree Amanda Knox asks how and whether the wrongly accused can regain their lives and privacy in the era of social media sensationalism. Mallika Rao’s heartbreaking “Three Bodies in Texas” details the destruction of an immigrant family in Frisco, Texas. And Sophie Haigney’s confessional “To the Son of the Victim” questions whether intrusions into private grief are justified by the public’s “right to know.”
Weinman’s sensitive selection of these and other articles in the anthology will provoke a wide range of reactions—sorrow, anger, indignation and even optimism. Perhaps they will also provoke a reckoning with how true crime lovers engage with stories of transgression and justice.