LITERARY JOURNALISM AND DISSIDENT ACTIVISM, SURVIVING OLD AGE, BOOK NOTICES, AND INTERVIEWS
Jun 11, 2019
4 min read
When They See Us...
Apparently former prosecutor Linda Fairstein's career in fiction began before she wrote the first of her 22 crime novels. As Ava DuVernay 's docudrama on the Central Park Five case,When They See Us, forcefully exhibits, Fairstein fabricated a case against five innocent minority juveniles and abided the coerced confessions which led to a truly nighmarish miscarriage of justice.
Sara Burns wrote up the case in 2011
The Central Park Five: A Chronicle of a City Wilding by Sarah Burns
On April 20, 1989, the body of a woman is discovered in Central Park, her skull so badly smashed that nearly 80 percent of her blood has spilled onto the ground. Within days, five black and Latino teenagers confess to her rape and beating. In a city where urban crime is at a high and violence is frequent, the ensuing media frenzy and hysterical public reaction is extraordinary. The young men are tried as adults and convicted of rape, despite the fact that the teens quickly recant their inconsistent and inaccurate confessions and that no DNA tests or eyewitness accounts tie any of them to the victim. They serve their complete sentences before another man, serial rapist Matias Reyes, confesses to the crime and is connected to it by DNA testing.
Maggie Nelson reviews Sarah Burns's The Central Park Five,
"...Burns’s book is novel in that it is the first sustained consideration of the case since the young men’s convictions were vacated.
This redirection alone — along with Burns’s exhaustive synthesizing of trial transcripts, interviews and articles — makes “The Central Park Five” an important cultural document, and unquestionably worth reading. This is Burns’s first book, and she proves herself an energetic researcher and gatherer, as well as a writer with a fine sense of organization and pacing. Her narrative is riveting, even (or perhaps, one must say, especially) in light of its horrors. Here I refer not only to the grisly details of the many brutal crimes the book recounts, but also to its swift tour through America’s violently racist past and present, in which the criminal justice system so often plays a starring role. Especially impressive is Burns’s tracking of the accused from the evening of the assault to the present in just over 200 pages, a feat she accomplishes by moving briskly between a tight focus on the case and much broader strokes.
...The most useful aspect of “The Central Park Five” may not be its analysis of racism, but rather of false confessions. The videotaped statements made by four of the five boys were undoubtedly the most damning evidence used against them at trial. The question of how and why they offered such inventive, graphic testimony about their involvement in the rape remains, for many, a bafflement. Burns labors hard to explain how intense interrogation can bring a suspect, especially a young one, to the irrational conclusion that falsely confessing “will improve a dreadful situation.”"
"This case is a lens through which we can understand the on-going fault-line of race in America," said Sarah Burns, "These young men were convicted long before the trial, by a city blinded by fear and, equally, freighted by race. They were convicted because it was all too easy for people to see them as violent criminals simply because of the color of their skin."
Ava DuVernayy presents a harrowing journey through the criminal justice system, humanizing five unjustly accused boys who were vilified and abused as they served years in prison for a crime they didn't commit. Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise (played as boys by Caleel Harris, Asante Blackk, Ethan Herisse, Marquis Rodriguez, and Jharrel Jerome) were typical teenagers; decent boys engaged in the normal things boys do, music lessons, hanging with friends, chatting up girls.And what is clear and ultimately heartbreaking , not a whiff of criminality in the group. In the park, DuVernay shows them mostly laughing and roughhousing with each other. When they stumble on a knot of young black men beating up a white man; in the Netflix series, one of the attackers says he was beaten by a group of white men in Bronx and was delivering "payback."
News reports at the time painted a different picture. Those stories reported a group of about 30 youths "wilding" — a term the Netflix series depicts coming from an officer's report on what one of the youths said — beating up and harassing a number of other people in the park, for no real reason
By now you know (or should ) that the five were exonerated when the guilty rapist confessed. After which Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise sued the City of New York and won a $41 million dollar settlement going on toraising famous and trying to live normal lives.
Former New York prosecutor Linda Fairstein
Linda Fairstein (played with rabid intensity by Felicity Huffman in When They See Us) who refused any participation with the film; has labeled it "a pack of lies". Apparently a view not shared by her publisher Dutton, who dropped her.
In 2018, the Mystery Writers of America awarded Fairstein their prestigious Grand Master title, a lifetime achievement award. But just two days later, the group withdrew the award after the decision was met with a substantial backlash from other authors because of Fairstein's involvement in the Central Park Five case.
Additionally, Fairstein has withdrawn from the board at Safe Horizon, a nonprofit supporting victims of domestic violence. She offered her reason,“I do not want to become a lightning rod to inflict damage on this organization, because of those now attacking my record of fighting for social justice for more than 45 years,” She has also stepped down from roles at God’s Love We Deliver, the Joyful Heart Foundation, and her alma mater, Vassar College.
One question lingers—why given Fairstein's relentless fabrication of the case against five innocent boys , with its attendant coercion and failure to disclose exculpatory evidence this is not criminal prosecutorial misconduct?