A prosecutor who was instrumental in the Central Park 5 case, events serialised by Ava DuVernay’s Netflix series When They See Us, has accused the filmmaker of “falsehoods.”
Linda Fairstein headed up the 1989 investigation into the rape of Trisha Meili, known at the time as the ‘Central Park jogger’ case, and since the release of the limited series renewed focus has been put on her role in convicting one Hispanic and four African-American teenagers for the crime.
The four-part Netflix show paints Fairstein, played by Felicity Huffman, as unethical in her handling of the interrogations of Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise, and Yusef Salaam, who were allegedly beaten by police officers, kept for hours without food or water and separated from their parents in order to secure coerced confessions for the crime.
“[The series] is so full of distortions and falsehoods as to be an outright fabrication," Fairstein says in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. "When They See Us, repeatedly portrays the suspects as being held without food, deprived of their parents’ company and advice, and not even allowed to use the bathroom.
“If that had been true, surely they would have brought those issues up and prevailed in pretrial hearings on the voluntariness of their statements, as well as in their lawsuit against the city. They didn’t, because it never happened,"
Fairstein argues that the Netflix series only focuses on the attack of Meili rather than the several instances of violence instigated by a group of teenagers that same night.
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“The larger picture of that terrible night: a riot in the dark that resulted in the apprehension of more than 15 teenagers who set upon multiple victims," she writes.
After serving pretty much of all of their prison time, the Central Park 5’s convictions were were vacated in 2002 after Mathias Reyes, a convicted serial rapist and murderer, confessed to the crime.
DNA testing confirmed his involvement with the attack but Fairstein again claims that does not mean the five other accused were not involved in the other crimes committed that evening.
"The other charges, for crimes against other victims, should not have been vacated,” she claims. “Nothing Mr. Reyes said exonerated these five of those attacks. And there was certainly more than enough evidence to support those convictions of first-degree assault, robbery, riot and other charges.”
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Fairstein’s letter comes after a #CancelLindaFairstein was launched by viewers of the series and the decision by her book publisher Dutton, a Penguin Random House imprint, to end its relationship with the author.
She also had an honour rescinded by The Mystery Writers of America (MWA) amid the backlash as well as resigned from two non-profit boards.
DuVernay addressed the negative reaction to Fairstein during an interview with Oprah Winfrey on Monday for Netflix’s final For Your Consideration Emmy event in Los Angeles.
“I think that it’s important that people be held accountable,” the filmmaker explained. “And that accountability is happening in a way today that it did not happen for the real men 30 years ago. But I think that it would be a tragedy if this story and the telling of it came down to one woman being punished for what she did because it’s not about her. It’s not all about her."
"[Fairstein] is part of a system that’s not broken, it was built to be this way,” DuVernay added, “It was built to oppress, it was built to control, it was built to shape our culture in a specific way that kept some people here and some people here.
It was built for profit. It was built for political gain and power. And it is incumbent on us; it lives off us, our taxpayer dollars, our votes, the goods that we buy that are made inside of prisons. It lives off of our ignorance and we can no longer be ignorant. OK, Linda Fairstein. OK, Elizabeth Lederer. OK, all of these people on this particular case who need to be held accountable."