I finally had the time to watch When They See Us with the full attention it deserves over the weekend and wow what an incredible miniseries. The show portrays the case of the central park 5 Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise and Raymond Santana. Its beautifully shot, wrote, produced, and acted. It is possibly the most challenging piece of art I have ever encountered. I have been passionate about civil rights and criminal justice reform for years I have wrote many assignments on the subject and consider myself to be informed of the facts and a myriad of reforms that will improve how we treat people who have committed crimes. I thought I was aware but this miniseries made me realise that no matter how much I read and cared about racial injustice my privileged position as a white person cant fathom the fear and injustice but this show does an incredible job at putting you in the boys position and forced me to confront my privilege.
Told from the perspective of the central park five the series isn’t concerned with white fragility and forces us to confront inherent biases within society. The most terrifying thing about the whole scenario could have happened to any of the teens in the park that night all of the children in the community were at risk of this horrific fate. The fact that we know the outcome of the case does nothing to diminish the tension. The second episode focuses on the trial and despite knowing they will be convicted you are filled with hope that they wont which is a testament to Ava DuVernay’s incredible talent. There are moments where you think they must be found innocent especially when the hidden DNA is discovered the lack of evidence and contradictory evidence is astounding and it really highlight the racist mindset of everyone involved in the prosecution. Despite being prepared for the verdict the moment they are found guilty broke my heart and I cried alongside the boys and their family.
The series is able to comment on so many of the injustices embedded within the criminal justice service through realistic conversations between characters. The first two episodes highlight how the poor are further punished through cash bail despite all the boys being charged with similar offences it is those that can collect the money from their communities who are released. When the boys are imprisoned the series shows the pain of families unable to contact each other due to the cost of phone calls and the isolation of being imprisoned hundreds of miles from your family. Unlike other shows there is very little celebration when the men are released from prison it does an incredible job of showing that being released is no victory. We see all the men struggle to find jobs, re-establish relationships with their families and become productive members of society when Yusef discusses his plans with his barber he is made aware that he will never be able to achieve what he plans as society will always see him as a criminal.
The show dedicates most of the final episode to Korey Wise the boy who was only involved because he went to the police station to support and wait for his friend Yusef and consequently spent 14 years in adult prison from the age of 16. Its a powerful episode which beautifully and impactfully shows the effects of solitary confinement and the injustice of victims of abuse being further punished. At the end of the episode the child actors transform into the real Central Park 5 and we are informed of the men’s life today. All have been able to build lives despite the trauma the state put them through.
This series gives injustice an innocent face and adds to the calls for criminal justice reform. There have been quick successes since the show aired including Elizabeth Lederer the prosecutor of this case forced to resign from Columbia Law School and Linda Fairstein has been dropped from her publishers. Both women stand by the conviction and deny any wrong doing despite DNA evidence to the contrary they not only betrayed these boys but also the victim of the crime who had to wait years for true justice. They are not the only ones who stand by the conviction yesterday President Donald Trump was asked if he still believes the innocent men are guilty and whether he stands by calling for their death in yet another example of his clear racism. This case and thousands of others show the necessity for reform ad tomorrows post will discuss the group Real Justice and Queens DA candidate Tiffany Caban who are demanding this reform.