Manitowoc County Residents Are Reliving The Steven Avery Trial All Over Again

As many Netflix subscribers and readers of this website know, Manitowoc County is the setting for Making A Murderer, the 10-part documentary series about the trial of Steven Avery. What is normally a small and quiet community near Lake Michigan has now become the center of attention again, thanks to the documentary, and residents of the town are less than thrilled.

Monica Davey was the New York Times’ Chicago bureau chief in 2005. She visited Manitowoc County then to report on Avery’s case and recently revisited it for the Times to see the impact that the documentary and the world’s renewed interest has had on the town. She writes:

In downtown Manitowoc, the county seat, the talkative, curious people I had come upon a decade earlier were no longer surprised — or the least bit pleased — to see yet another reporter. Many avoided any talk about “Making a Murderer,” or simply spotted my notebook and walked away. The mayor declined to be interviewed. Business owners refused to discuss it: One said she had read online about a call for a protest in the town, and she was worried about safety.

The wary inhabitants of the town don’t really weigh in that much on Avery’s guilt, aside from one woman dining at an establishment called The Fat Seagull, telling Davey, “He’s guilty as sin.”

But, the renewed attention to the case has affected the town and hundreds of people who had successfully put the Avery case behind them. Imagine finding your community at the center of an entire Internet’s worth of ire. Even Steven’s mother, Dolores, the saddest and most heartbreaking figure in the documentary series, is exhausted.

Standing in her doorway this month, Ms. Avery, a constant presence in the series, said she hoped people now saw “the crooked things the county has done” to her family.

But all the renewed talk, the calls for interviews from around the world? “I’m too old for this,” she said. “It’s too much.”

It’s important to illuminate the injustices of our very broken legal system and to point out wrongdoers and crusade. The power of art to shine a light on injustice is irrefutable, but it can wreak havoc on the lives of people who had nothing to do with it in the first place. It’s absolutely correct to be angry and try to take action about Steven Avery and the apparent mishandling of his life, but remembering that the residents of Manitowoc County are doing their best to try and move past this is crucial. One of the filmmakers, Laura Ricciardi, told the Times:

“We have empathy for Manitowoc because we know that people have been reaching out in unkind ways and posting things about the city and the county…That’s an unfortunate response, because we have always wanted the series to be constructive, not destructive.”

Armchair detectives, a word of warning: direct your ire in ways that feel productive and constructive. Find outlets that make sense. Be mindful of someone other than yourself and that buoyant do-gooder feeling deep in your chest before you leave a one-star Yelp review for a government body. Your actions, good or bad, have consequences, too.