THE REEL: When They See Us

Friday June 21 2019

When They See Us, is a TV mini-series directed by Ava Duvernay that tells the real life story of the notorious case of the ‘Central Park Five’. PHOTO| COURTESY

When They See Us, is a TV mini-series directed by Ava Duvernay that tells the real life story of the notorious case of the ‘Central Park Five’. PHOTO| COURTESY 

SONIA GAKURU
By SONIA GAKURU
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Youth is fleeting, and when it is deliberately and cruelly snatched away by the lying actions of a few, it can be crushing.

When They See Us, is a TV mini-series directed by Ava Duvernay that tells the real life story of the notorious case of the ‘Central Park Five’, a group of 5 boys; 4 African American and one Hispanic, who in 1989 were wrongly accused of raping Trisha Meili a jogger in Central Park, severely beating her and leaving her for dead.

The mini-series has been divided in four episodes and is classified as a biography, drama and history.

Each episode plays for over 1hr.

Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise were teenage boys who grew up in Harlem under the watchful care of their parents.

IMPULSIVE DECISION

On the night of April 19, 1989, they decided with other boys to go to Central Park and have fun as boys their age are wont to do, what they didn’t know was that this impulsive decision would cost them their teenage years forever.

Unbeknownst to them, a female jogger had been found near death in the park and police swung into action to apprehend any suspects in the vicinity.

The police chased down the boys and the five were caught and sent to the police precincts.

They were intensely interrogated by the police without the presence of a guardian or parent as is stipulated under the law.

The boys, scared and vulnerable were coerced into falsely admitting that they committed the horrendous crime and signed false confessions all except Yusuf Salaam whose mum managed to get to him before he could sign it.

The case went to court and it elicited a lot of media attention.

The beauty of recent history is the fact that most of the participants are still alive and in this one, a fascinating story line is that Trump, the current US President who was then a flamboyant tycoon, took out a full page advertisement in the New York Times urging for the return of the death penalty for this case, to address the large increase of violent crime in New York City at the time.

The case was tried under a judge who was notorious for taking the side of the state.

The state was focused on punishing the 5 and was not shy in bending the rules and presenting evidence that was false and contradictory.

The defence lawyers did their best to bring to light the various underhand ways that the State had broken the law in their pursuit of justice especially in their handling of the interrogation of the boys but the die was cast against them and the boys were sentenced to between 5 to 15 years where they spent between 6 and 13 years in prison.

While watching this series, I experienced wave after wave of emotion, from red hot anger, to a crushing sadness and finally to bittersweet joy.

The boys were young and vulnerable when arrested and they were racially profiled as beasts and wild boys bent on destruction and death. They came from a lower socio-economic area and thus they were already classified as thugs.

This made me think about our own teenage boys from our slums who are routinely gunned down and portrayed as notorious criminals in the media whom the society is much better without.

The actors put in a lot of brilliant work to bring out the story, both the young and adult actors who represented the different stages of the real life Central Five.

Korey Wise particularly had the worst of it because he was profiled as a 16yr old and was sentenced to adult prison where he suffered the worst kind of beatings and abuse but miraculously, he survived it to tell his story.

The real life rapist through an interesting turn of events, confessed to the crime and the five had their criminal records expunged and Korey who was still in prison for the crime was released, the others having been paroled earlier.

They received compensation to the tune of $41 million in 2014 and went on to build successful lives. Injustice to one, is injustice to all.

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