Commentary: Ava DuVernay’s ‘When They See Us’ focuses attention on falsely accused Central Park Five

Lauren Victoria Burke 

Commentary: Ava DuVernay’s  ‘When They See Us’ focuses attention on falsely accused Central Park Five
July 03
03:30 2019

By Lauren Victoria Burke

The painful true stories of five falsely accused young men, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, and Korey Wise, has been brought to light in excruciatingly vivid detail by director Ava DuVernay.

The group known as the Central Park Five would receive 6 to 13 years in prison.

“When They See Us” is DuVernay’s new mini-series, featured exclusively on Netflix, depicting the story of the Central Park Five. Her film features the infamous 1989 case of five boys of color who were falsely accused of the rape of Trisha Meili, a white female jogger who was then an investment banker. The story was reminiscent of the Scottsboro Boys case in 1931 in terms of being a rabid miscarriage of justice that stereotyped men of color as sexual predators.

On May 1, 1989, Donald Trump called for the return of the death penalty in reference to the Central Park Five in full-page ads in all four of the city’s major newspapers. Trump has never admitted he was wrong about the Central Park Five, though he has been asked about the case multiple times.

The members of the Central Park Five were coerced into confessing to a crime they did not commit and implicating each other as police detectives subjected them to lengthy interviews and interrogations.

In 2002, Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and serial rapist who was in prison, confessed to the crime the Central Park Five were convicted of and his DNA matched evidence found at the scene. The five convictions of Salaam, Santana, Richardson, McCray and Wise were vacated after more than a decade. In 2014, New York City reached a $40 million settlement with the Central Park Five after Mayor Mike Bloomberg blocked their payout for ten years.

As DuVernay’s film gained viewers and momentum and waves of publicity, Linda Fairstein, the main prosecutor of the Central Park Five, was dropped by her publisher, Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House, on June 7. Fairstein has never apologized or admitted there was a wrongful prosecution in the case. Several prosecutors and detectives have avoided discussing the series. The five men are pursuing an additional $52 million in damages from New York State in the New York Court of Claims.

Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent journalist and writer for NNPA as well as a political analyst and strategist as Principal of Win Digital Media LLC. She may be contacted at and on twitter at @LVBurke.

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