The real reason 'Making a Murderer' disturbs us isn't about sussing out whether he did it.

A documentary has gotten people all over the world riled up.

SPOILERS ABOUND. You've been warned.

In the past few weeks, the Netflix-watching community has been gathered together in a virtual town square — social media — to express strong feelings produced by the documentary "Making a Murderer."


If you haven't seen it, it's the story of how Steven Avery, wrongfully imprisoned for 18 years for sexual assault by a shortcut-taking municipality in Wisconsin and then released when finally exonerated, gets convicted again (for murder). There are all sorts of good questions raised about how he was found guilty the second time.

Images from Netflix's "Making a Murderer," used with permission.

It's the stuff nightmares are made of.

First, the accused is not necessarily an easy-to-like character. Avery is an uneducated guy from "the wrong side of town" and a family not very well-respected — their family tree of various bad behaviors is probably a couple of typed pages long.

Grudge-wielding authorities targeted Avery immediately as a suspect in the first case, a sexual assault, in 1985. He spent 18 years in prison for it until the Wisconsin Innocence Project intervened and helped present new DNA evidence showing someone else committed the assault.

It was later proven that the police department had ample evidence that should have led them to investigate others, which they didn't pursue. Not only did their dogged insistence on locking up Avery wrongfully deprive him of a huge chunk of his life, but it also resulted in the real perpetrator, Gregory Allen, remaining free to violently rape in the ensuing years.

Avery was released and returned home to try to move on and live his life. That should have been the end of the story, right?

But just as Manitowoc County was facing the possibility of paying millions of dollars to him in restitution, a search for a missing woman named Teresa Halbach seemed to point to Avery.

Her body was later discovered. Evidence seemed (at least on the surface) to damn Avery and his nephew, and they both went to prison for it.

After 18 years of his life wrongfully spent in prison, Avery was right back there.

Did he do it or didn't he? That's the question, right — or is it?

There are fierce debates happening on Facebook and in living rooms around the world. Netflix's documentary presents a lot of troubling aspects to the prosecution's murder case, and the prosecutor, since disgraced for other salacious, character-destroying reasons, argues that the film leaves out crucial evidence the public should be considering. There are lots of split opinions and some who don't know what to think.

But what if the moral obligation of the viewer isn't to try to get to the bottom of whether Steven Avery committed the crime?

Instead, the audience can use its collective power to ask the right questions: Are people all over America getting fair trials based on unbiased investigations?

Or do overworked, under-resourced, and potentially undertrained police departments fit evidence to a favored theory rather than collect all the evidence that could lead them to the truth — truth that could potentially disprove their theories?

Do pressured prosecutors use the media and the law to gain outcomes that favor their own track records and careers, rather than protect the "innocent until proven guilty" core tenet of our judicial system?

The potential for wrong judicial outcomes seems more and more obvious lately.

Consider:

Sandra Bland, pulled from her car by a Texas officer under falsely reported pretenses, leading to arrest and, subsequently, her suspicious death in jail.

Adnan Syed, a teen boy whose inability to account for his whereabouts and ailing, overwhelmed lawyer caused him to be convicted of his ex-girlfriend's murder — perhaps unjustly, as the radio podcast "Serial" highlighted.

Glenn Ford, who spent 30 years on death row for a crime he didn't commit, causing his prosecutor, in a public show of humility rare for prosecutors, to express extreme regret at how he handled the case and doubts about the way cases are routinely handled.

Upworthy screenshot.

"My mindset was wrong and blinded me to my purpose of seeking justice, rather than obtaining a conviction of a person who I believed to be guilty. I did not hide evidence, I simply did not seriously consider that sufficient information may have been out there that could have led to a different conclusion. And that omission is on me."
— Marty Shroud, former prosecutor who tried the Glenn Ford case

When I asked the national Innocence Project's Paul Cates whether cases like these are outliers, he gave me unsettling news:

"Since 1989, DNA evidence has helped to exonerate 337 people of crimes for which they didn’t commit," Cates said via email. "The National Registry counts another 1391 [exonerated] by other means. And these represent just a fraction of the wrongful convictions as it is extremely difficult to prove innocence once you’ve been convicted."

That's why the Innocence Network hopes these lightning-rod moments in pop culture will prompt citizens to reflect and act.

If you get addicted to "Serial" and "Making a Murderer" partially because it's so scary how vulnerable any of us could be to a wrongful conviction, then some part of you knows that the justice system in America is in need of deep, expansive overhaul.

These are a few of the many methods for overhaul, according to the Wisconsin Innocence Project's Keith Findley:

"We ... need to change the culture in police departments so they see themselves, and are rewarded accordingly, as neutral investigators into the facts rather than agents of the prosecution whose job it is to build a case against a chosen suspect. Likewise, we need a change in the culture in prosecutors’ offices so that the search for justice is a higher priority than the drive to obtain convictions."

We can rally around our TVs every time a talented filmmaker exposes one of the many cases like this, and then quickly move on. Or we could see it as the wake-up call it is. It disturbs us for a reason.

What happened to Teresa Halbach is unimaginably horrible. What adds so much insult to the injury, though, is that because of poor police work and shady prosecutorial conduct — even if Avery really did commit her murder — there will always be the possibility that her real killer went free.

We can insist on a better justice system, and we should encourage all of our neighbors to do the same.

Here's the trailer for the documentary. You really have to see it to believe it.

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Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

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Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

Even as millions of Americans celebrated the inauguration of President Joe Biden this week, the nation also mourned the fact that, for the first time in modern history, the United States did not have a peaceful transition of power.

With the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, when pro-Trump insurrectionists attempted to stop the constitutional process of counting electoral votes and where terrorists threatened to kill lawmakers and the vice president for not keeping Trump in power, our long and proud tradition was broken. And although presidential power was ultimately transferred without incident on January 20, the presence of 20,000 National Guard troops around the Capitol reminded us of the threat that still lingers.

First Lady Jill Biden showed up today with cookies in hand for a group of National Guard troops at the Capitol to thank them for keeping her family safe. The homemade chocolate chip cookies were a small token of appreciation, but one that came from the heart of a mother whose son had served as well.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.