Former New York City prosecutor Linda Fairstein is speaking out against Ava DuVernay’s Netflix series When They See Us about the so-called Central Park Five.
The four-part series offers a dramatization of the wrongful conviction and eventual exoneration of the five teenagers at the center of the case surrounding the April 1989 rape of a female jogger in New York’s Central Park.
The teens were 14 to 16 years old at the time, and confessed after being coerced by police. The defendants were black or Hispanic, and the victim was white.
All of the rape and assault convictions against the five (Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise, and Yusef Salaam) were vacated in 2002 due to DNA evidence and a confession from serial rapist Matias Reyes.
Fairstein, who led the case against the then-teenagers, wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal published Monday, in which she slammed DuVernay and the series for supposedly relying on an “utterly false narrative” to tell the men’s stories.
The ex-Manhattan District Attorney’s office prosecutor argued that while the men deserved to have their convictions vacated, there’s alleged evidence tying them to a 30-person riot that occurred in Central Park on April 19, 1989, the same night the jogger was raped.
Fairstein criticized DuVernay for ignoring “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 argued that more attention should have been paid to the “eight others” who were attacked, “including two men who were beaten so savagely that they required hospitalization for head injuries.”
Fairstein alleged that “there was certainly more than enough evidence to support those convictions of first-degree assault, robbery, riot and other charges,” despite the wrongful rape convictions.
Fairstein, who is portrayed by actress Felicity Huffman in the series, also took on DuVernay directly, alleging the director painted her as a “bigot, the police as incompetent or worse, and the five suspects as innocent of all charges against them.”
The former prosecutor criticized the show’s plot as well, alleging that it’s “so full of distortions and falsehoods as to be an outright fabrication.”
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One area of contention concerns the alleged mistreatment of the five accused during the interrogation process.
“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,” she wrote. “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.”
Since Netflix released the series on May 31, Fairstein has faced intense criticism. She stepped down from her board of directors positions at several charity organizations. The former prosecutor also lost her book deal after writing 16 bestselling crime novels.
DuVernay addressed the fallout surrounding Fairstein in an interview Sunday with Oprah Winfrey, stating 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.”
She continued: “She is part of a system that’s not broken, it was built to be this way. It was built to oppress, it was built to control.”