These days I barely watch TV shows, especially the “binge-worthy” type as they can be highly addictive. It’s the type of material I prefer to avoid as a person suffering from BPD. As a result, I try to be really picky about my selections and I am more inclined towards limited series. One day I came across “When They See Us” on Netflix, a limited series based on the true story of the Central Park Five.
The Central Park Five
The Central Park Five are a group of five teenagers that were wrongly convicted of a rape of a white female jogger they did not commit. Trisha Meili was assaulted and raped between 9 and 10 pm on the night of April 19, 1989. Four African American and two Hispanic American teenagers were indicted on May 10 on charges of assault, robbery, riot, rape, sexual abuse, and the attempted murders of Meili and an unrelated man, John Loughlin. The sixth defendant pleaded guilty in January 1991 on lesser charges and received a reduced sentence.
The remaining five, Kevin Richardson, 14, Raymond Santana, 14, Antron McCray, 15, Yusef Salaam, 15, and 16-year-old Korey Wise were convicted and served 5 to 15 year sentences.
Eventually, they were all exonerated after Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and serial rapist, confessed to the crime in 2002. In 2014, they were awarded a $41 million settlement, though the City of New York never admitted any wrongdoing.
Despite its inconsistencies “When They See Us” is definitely worth watching as a dramatization of the story. The story itself has been extensively covered by the media during these 31 years. The timing of its release (31st of May, 2019) was far from coincidental though.
“BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!”
The case naturally drew a lot of attention from the public back in 1989. Among them was an up and coming New York real estate developer, who placed the following ad in several local newspapers.
The man behind the ad was Donald J. Trump, the current president of the United States. Trump published his ad in four local newspapers less than two weeks after the attack and played a key role in shaping public opinion by holding a press conference and doing an interview with Larry King. Although I doubt Trump showed up uninvited to Larry King’s show.
The $85,000 worth of ads were published in The New York Times (surprise, surprise), The Daily News, The New York Post and New York Newsday. The 600-word appeal, signed by Trump, is titled ”Bring Back the Death Penalty. Bring Back Our Police!”
His open letter stressed how New York families of all races “have had to give up the pleasure of a leisurely stroll in the Park at Dusk” because of “roving thousands of wild criminals. It’s worth noting that the upper side Central Park is located next to Harlem.
He argued that politicians were overly concerned with public outcry about police brutality — such as the fatal shooting of a disabled elderly black woman by a NYPD officer in the mid-1980s — to the point that they weren’t letting the “neighborhood cop” do his job of protecting the community, creating a “reckless and dangerously permissive atmosphere which allows criminals of every age to beat and rape a helpless woman.”
He said “these muggers and murderers… should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes.”
Michael Warren, a member of the Central Park Five legal team, argued in The Guardian in 2016 that Trump “poisoned the minds of many people who lived in New York and who, rightfully, had a natural affinity for the victim.”
Nevertheless Trump never admitted any wrongdoing against the Central Park Five. He insisted that his plead was targeted towards whoever did the crime, but the identities of the accused were known.
On the other hand it is appalling that the media gave voice to a man asking for the execution of children – guilty or not. A child facing the death penalty at the age of 14 is unimaginable to me. All that before the kids were even indicted.
Of course the same media accuse Trump today for his law and order and chaos-inducing speech during his presidency. There has been a significant level of hypocrisy and lack of self-awareness, not just in the case of the Central Park Five.
Still no apology
On the 18th of June of 2019 when asked whether he apologizes about his involvement in the case of the Central Park Five, Trump replied “You have people on both sides of that”. “They admitted their guilt. If you look at Linda Fairstein (the leading investigator), and if you look at some of (the) prosecutors, they think that the city should never have settled that case. So we’ll leave it at that.” Yet another statement ignoring the revealed facts about the confessions and the treatment of the defendants by the polic.
The role of the media
While the media constantly shift the focus to Trump I have not been able to find any apology for their own involvement in the case. However, these four newspapers, CNN and probably other sources I am not aware of allowed the spread of hate speech that added fuel to the fire for these five kids.
All this at a time when society was probably-I dare say undoubtedly-even more susceptible to racism and prejudice than today. Unfortunately, their liability is entirely omitted in the four-episode series and in their most popular reports and articles around the internet.
The signs of things to come were always there and 2016 proved once again that you reap what you sow. Let’s see what 2020 brings.
Back to the show
To conclude, “When They See Us” is the type of TV I like watching as it encourages me to do some personal research on the topic, even if it’s far from perfect. I plan to also watch the 2012 documentary “The Central Park Five” in the upcoming weeks.