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/

Reality of Justice

” Injustice anywhere is a threat to Justice anywhere.”

-Martin Luther King Jr.

Letter From a Birghinham Jail

This is one of my favorite quotes from Doctor King. If you haven’t read the letter in full, please take a few moments to do so here. I can get caught up in the visceral notion of what Justice should look like, righting wrongs.

Growing up, I believed that everyone in jail were all bad guys and deserved to be there. I believed all law enforcement were for the good of all.

Then I grew up and started to learn that this wasn’t always true. I began to understand that often people are lead less by altruism for others and more so for their own gain. Or defense of what they believed needs to be protected.

This week the Memorial for Peace and Justice opened in Alabama. It honors those who suffered at the hands of being lynched. A type of “justice ” served up to punish those who were convicted not of crimes breaking the laws per se. But the reality often was ( and is) the breaking of social morays. This memorial is necessary to highlight past injustices and current ones. To address the reality of our past and present.

This memorial is a place of reckoning. A small piece of justice but one that can be fully more so if the gravity of this place is fully embraced.

Justice is often more emotional than is admitted. We want to believe that justice is blind, where the facts of the case carefully weighed. Instead what often happens is the opposite. Emotion rules over facts.

Justice is something we will never get right. Human nature will always mess it up. Desire to be right or to push “undesirables” out of view will be around.

But we can do better. By being willing to learn and listen is a start. It’s the place I started. By asking the hard questions and leaning into the often hard answers.

Trusting in what God is doing is another place I’ve leaned into. In the end, true restorative and healing justice lies with God. Trusting Him, loving God and learning is the start of true justice.

Injustices must be called out, those previously dismissed listened to and given space to speak. We must examine our hearts about what we choose to look past because of the truth being too hard. It has to be hard.

Justice begins by learning, taking time to read, listen and absorb. I have much to learn yet but this is where I am today. Developing a better awareness and understanding in order to do better.

There is the possibility of true justice but I believe that it’s possible to do better, to have hope in that.

Two books that I reccomend reading

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

White Trash by Nancy Isenberg

I suggest Truths Table podcast and finding voices on Twitter follow as well.

Story Monday : The Seduction Of True Crime

Last fall I became addicted to the Serial Podcast, this series now in its second season examined a murder case from 1999. I won’t rehash the entire season here but the details of the case were rather interesting. It painted a picture of how easy it would be for the wrong set of circumstances can upend one’s life.

The series grabbed my imagination and in it’s wake were other podcasts that have continued to look at the details of this case. Who really killed Hae May and did Sayeed do it? Did he have help or is he wholly innocent? At this time Sayeed is preparing for his appeal trial.

True crime stories have always captured the public’s imagination. My first brush with this genre with In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. This book propelled Truman into fame and continues to be examined.

Then there is OJ Simpson case, which spelled the beginning of the end for daytime soap operas. The Memphis Three whose story was chronicled in documentaries and books. Eventually leading to the young men being released.

But what is it about these kinds of stories that fascinates us? Is it that from our vantage point that we feel safe to look into the lurid truth if some lives?

Perhaps it is this permission that is given in these cases to examine lives under a microscope. Those juicy secrets of the private lives of others. The twists and turns of our justice system that can occur.

In these stories, as with any great story, we see ourselves in them. Our lives turned upside down. Fighting to be heard or dealing with the consequences of being pushed too far. Story encompasses so much in our daily lives. True crime stories capture our imagination for many reasons.