The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Movie Review:
When They See Us

Jun 10, 2019

A powerful four-part mini-series, When They See Us, is currently available on Netflix. Directed by Ava DuVernay, this is a fictionalized version of the true story of five teenagers, known as the “Central Park Five”, who were maliciously and falsely prosecuted in the 1989 case of the rape and near fatal beating of a white female jogger in New York’s Central Park. Told from the viewpoint of the five innocent men who had their childhood stolen from them, it exposes the racism of the so-called justice system.

The brutally attacked woman jogger was a white investment banker from New York’s Upper East Side. The teenagers, four Black and one Latino, ages 14 through 16, were socializing with friends at the park and were from Harlem.

It’s the story of how five lives were forever changed – those of Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam – because the authorities wanted to pin the crime on anyone to quickly “solve” the case.

It focuses on the youth’s abhorrent treatment by the police and the rabid media response – ranging from a New York Times editorial: “How could apparently well-adjusted youngsters turn into so savage a wolf pack;” to the 85,000-dollar full page ads paid for by “billionaire” real estate developer Donald Trump. His ads read: BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY.

It shows how their false confessions were obtained through coercion, if not torture, with the police and prosecutor interrogating them for 14 to 30 hours, often without their parents present.

It shows the conspiracy mounted by the police and the prosecutors, who lie about time lines and overlook crucial evidence that could have cleared the teenagers, in order to push through a guilty verdict.

It shows that DESPITE EVIDENCE TO THE CONTRARY AND NO DNA EVIDENCE, these five teenagers spent six to 13 years in prison for attempted murder, rape and assault. Only one attacker’s DNA was found at the crime scene and it did NOT match any of these teenagers, but this did not stop the police from pinning the crime on them. It exposes that there was not one iota of scientific evidence linking any of the five to the attack. A forensic pathologist, the prosecutor’s own expert, could not testify that the victim had been attacked by more than one person. Yet false statements were made by the prosecutor, even in closing arguments.

This film series, in taking the perspective of the teenagers, shows how the criminal justice system grinds up young people, locking up kids as adults.

Twelve years after the five were convicted, in 2002, new DNA evidence proved that one person, Matias Reyes, was responsible for the attack. Reyes, a convicted serial rapist and murderer, had confessed. If Reyes had been identified at the time, additional rapes and the murder of a pregnant woman could have been prevented! Reyes had raped and beaten a second woman in Central Park earlier that week, but this earlier rape was not looked into.

And so in 2002 the Central Park Five’s convictions were vacated ... by a District Attorney who had participated in the original trial!

During the trial, the five youths maintained their innocence. And when they came before parole boards, they refused to concede they had anything to do with the attack, even though a “show of remorse” would have given them a better shot at leaving prison earlier.

One worker said, “when you see it, you want to know, why aren’t all these people who wrongly framed and convicted these innocent young men, in prison themselves?” And DuVernay’s own words about this series answers this question head on: “... the system’s not broken; the system was built this way.”