Lessons from When They See Us

Trigger warning, today’s post is about When They See Us. If you are not in a place to deal with this heavy topic I suggest you take a moment and come back to it later.

I knew peripherally about the case first known as The Central Park Jogger. I confess it was one of those cultural antidotes that I knew about but did not truly understand. Today, I know more thanks to the Netflix series and engaging in my own research into the case.

The series is more than another show. It’s a nuanced telling of how these children were not seen as such. They were given the moniker Central Park 5, convicted of the crime of rape. In 2002 the real perpetrator , Matias Reyes confessed to the crime. Their convictions were vacated.

In 2012 a documentary titled The Central Park 5 produced by Ken and Sarah Burns came out, which started the conversation. However their story was not fully seen until now thanks to Ava DuVernay and this series.

It’s the story of our country, the things we choose to look away from about our system of justice in order to be comfortable. The pain Yusef, Kevin, Raymond, Korey and Antron endured and still do today has finally been acknowledged.

How many other people are living with this same pain and don’t get their story out? Too many. The story of the powerful and the vulnerable plays out again and again in our communities.

The entire cast and crew did an exemplary job with this art. I’m grateful for these men now known as the Exonerated Five being so willing to tell their story. I watched it twice through and Episode four which focuses on Korey Wise’s miraculous survival three times. I didn’t want to miss a thing, the least I can do is watch, they had to live it.

The connection to Kalief Browder and his time in Rikers while awaiting trial for a charge cannot be ignored either. The two cases gave me chills at how much they echoed each other. The documentary about him is also available on Netflix, Time, The Kalief Browder Story.

It stayed with me for days. I spent hours researching the case on Google. I saw that this series was asking more of me than simply consumption.

It’s not enough to watch and be upset. It has asked me to question the narrative set before me. It asks me to be more engaged in my community, to know who are these prosecutors and judges that are often names on a ballot. It’s important to question the narrative the media puts out.

It has me asking how has my ignorance of these things contributed to injustice? How do I now going forward be a conduit for change? I’m not a lawyer or an expert on the penal system but I have learned enough that there needs to be change.

I’ve been expanding my book shelf this last year and a half, following activists on Twitter and To rethink what is justice. We need to listen to the truth, pay attention to what is being done with our tax dollars under the guise of justice and ask questions. The phrase don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time needs to eradicated. What I’ve learned is this, the justice system is not as cut and dry as I once believed.

So much pain has been caused to these men, as well as the victims of the real perpetrator. I’m grateful their convictions were vacated and they won a lawsuit against NYC and later New York State but it’s too bad it came after so much pain was endured. No amount of money will give them back their youth but I pray that they do get to have peace and healing.

When They See Us and the Oprah Special When They See Us Now is currently streaming on Netflix.

Here are some links to get started

The other survivors of Reyes

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.thecut.com/amp/2019/06/the-attackers-other-victims-in-the-central-park-five-case.html

The connection between of Kailef Browder and Korey Wise cannot be ignored

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/24/nyregion/kalief-browder-settlement-lawsuit.html

Check out the Innocence Project

https://www.innocenceproject.org/

Raymond Santana’s clothing company

https://parkmadisonnyc.com/