Award winning Ava DuVernay’s new Netflix series, When They See Us, has ignited calls to reopen cases led by Linda Fairstein, the Central Park Five prosecutor, former Manhattan District Attorney, and a bestselling crime author.
On the night of April 19, 1989, Trisha Meili, a white female jogger, was assaulted and raped in the North Woods of Manhattan’s Central Park and was left in a coma for 12 days. Five juvenile males—four African American and one Hispanic—were convicted for various crimes in connection with the incident, even though the FBI tested the DNA of the rape kit and found it did not match of any of the juveniles and there was no other physical evidence or witnesses connecting the minors to the crime. These juveniles became known as the Central Park Five.
According to The Daily Beast, When They See Us portrays Fairstein, “the retired New York sex-crimes prosecutor as a purveyor of injustice who racially profiled and railroaded the so-called Central Park Five three decades ago.” Further, it exposes the breakdown of the U.S. criminal justice system during the case, stemming from Fairstein’s actions, which include the malicious prosecution of minors, coercion and the questioning of some of the minors without their parents present. According to The Fader, the minors “long held that they were coerced and intimidated into confessing.” All five boys spent the rest of their childhoods in prison from 6-12 years. Ultimately, the minors were found to be wrongfully convicted based on the coerced video tapes that were used in evidence. However, in 2002, their sentences were vacated after an incarcerated rapist named Matias Reyes admitted to committing the crime alone. In the wake of the Netflix series, many are asking that Fairstein be criminally investigated for her role in the convictions of the Central Park Five, that her old cases be reopened, and her books be boycotted.
Our criminal justice system is already stacked against minorities. Fairstein’s actions amount to criminal offenses, as it is against the law to malicious prosecution, witness tampering and falsifying statements in the police report. Her actions should not only call for her disbarment based on bar ethics, but also for prison time. Further, it would be appropriate to reopen her old cases, as Fairstein may have engaged in similar behavior when prosecuting others and may have wrongfully convicted more individuals.
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