This weekend I sat down with my entire family to watch NetFlix’s “When They See Us”, created by Ms. Ava DuVernay; about the “Central Park 5” bka the “Exonerated 5”. The miniseries was released on May 31st and has received a lot of buzz, rightfully so. It was masterfully done and I am so glad that the REAL story has been told.
In case you aren’t familiar with the story, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Korey Wise, Antron McCray and Yusef Salaam (ages 14-16) were accused of brutally attacking and raping a jogger in Central Park on April 19, 1989; a 28-year-old white woman by the name of Trisha Meili. I note the race of the victim because it has significance on the chain of events that happened there after.
Without going into every detail of the case, the series highlights the egregious misconduct of the NYPD and the DA’s office. These young men were arrested, coerced into giving false statements and admissions of guilt and denied food, water and legal counsel. What’s more, there was ZERO DNA evidence connecting the young men to the attack. Still, 4 of the young men were convicted of rape, assault, robbery and riot and were sentenced to 5 -10 years in a juvenile facility. While Korey Wise, who was the oldest at 16, was sentenced to an adult prison to serve 5-15 years. Years later after a chance meeting in prison with Korey Wise, the real assailant, Matias Reyes, admitted to the attack and rape of Trisha.
The Exonerated 5 were eventually exonerated and awarded $41 million in restitution from the state of New York. This was a brief recap of the case, please watch the miniseries on NetFlix.
I was only 8 years old when the events in Central Park happened but I had heard and read about the story on various platforms. Sure, I thought I KNEW the story but clearly I had NO IDEA the depths and levels of cover up and framing that happened to those then boys, now men.
As a mom of 3 beautiful girls this story SICKENED me! I was forced to have “the talk” with my girls again. In the black and brown community, parents are required to have a talk with their children about how to behave and act when they are confronted by the police and/or arrested. Unfortunately, the rules are different for our children than it is for our white counterparts, that’s not theory but proven fact.
As we watched this miniseries, which by the way was cast perfectly, directed perfectly… I mean its BRILLIANT; my daughters found themselves confused by how and why this happened to the 5. I tried to explain it to them but it was still perplexing. The question was, “This happened because they were black and brown?” It was a simple question with a simple answer: “YES”.
It’s obvious in the events that happened back then and the ones still going on today that black and brown people are considered prey, not only to the white supremacists who wear the swastikas and wave the Confederate Flag; but also to the police, prosecutors and judges who already have preconceived prejudices not just because of the color of our skin but of our socioeconomic status as well.
The police and the DA’s office in this case, used the lack of knowledge of their rights and the fear of the boys as well as their parents to interrogate them without counsel and coerce them into signing a completely contrived statement of admission of guilt. They also videotaped these “confessions” where it is obvious the boys are unsure, scared and tired. Linda Fairstein, the prosecutor in the case, KNEW what the police had done to obtain those statements and even hid evidence during the trial that additionally proved that the 5 young men were innocent; but still proceeded with prosecuting them anyways and a jury of their “peers” found them guilty.
That’s easy to do when people want to believe that the cops and prosecutors are good and those in the black and brown community are inherently bad.
How do we prevent this from happening again? We know about the Exonerated 5 but how many others are in prison for crimes that they were coerced into admitting guilt for? How do we prevent our children or even ourselves from falling victim to this “justice” system (I chuckled as I typed justice because I don’t believe that we receive that as a collective)?
Here is my belief:
- As much as I have a bad taste in my mouth for the “justice” system, we need more people of color as police officers, prosecutors, defense attorney’s and judges. These people need to come from the very communities that are often victimized by the “justice” system.
- We cannot be scared to educate ourselves on our rights and use our voice when we know injustice is happening to ourselves, our children, our community. Fear has kept us hostage far too long
- We need to get back to policing our own communities as well. While I know that there appears to be more “crazies” in the world, I believe that there are more people in our communities that are willing to work together than to work against each other. We need our village back!
- VOTE! I will say it time and time again, these prosecutors, judges, sheriffs are ELECTED officials. Use your right to VOTE!
Mr. Raymond Santana, Mr. Kevin Richardson, Mr. Korey Wise, Mr. Antron McCray and Mr. Yusef Salaam, I apologize for all you had to endure from that night in April of 1989 until your records were cleared and you were exonerated and paid your DUE restitution. Nothing can change what you have been through but please know that your story has impacted lives. My children and I agree that you are incredibly strong in mind and faith to overcome such horrible circumstances and still continue to pursue justice for others.
Mr. Wise as I watched your story in episode 4 unfold, I told my girls I don’t know if I could have been as strong as you. I can’t say that I wouldn’t have admitted guilt in front of parole committee just to get out of prison. However, I was reminded when I saw the full circle moment happen between you and Matias that God had you there for a reason. We often don’t understand the journey but it is obvious you and the other 4 men were put on this Earth for a much greater reason than I think even you understood at the time.
They tried to steal your joy, to rob you of a fulfilling life but you persevered and came out triumphant. I can only pray that the rest of your days are filled with as much love, joy and peace as it can stand and that you deserve.
Love and Light,