One of the benefits of my new cable package is that it comes with Netflix, so I was able to watch the original mini-series by film maker Ana DuVernay, When They See Us. The series is powerful, the injustice overwhelming. The five young men convicted without evidence of the Central Park rape attack, which occurred in 1989, had their lives upended in ways that can’t be fixed by multi-million dollar settlements from the City of New York.
This Guardian piece was written in 2016, and talks about how big a role then-real estate developed Donald Trump played in inflaming public opinion against the young men. To this day, Trump focuses only on how effective his capacity to channel white fear by fueling racist themes has been, including electing him president. He’s never acknowledged being wrong about the Central Park Five, never showed a shred of remorse for his role in this terrible episode. Trump still maintains the Central Park Five are guilty, despite the confession of the actual rapist and confirming DNA evidence.
Curiously enough, Jerry and I had a window into how the justice system works for poor black defendants when we lived in Rochester, NY. In the spring of 1973, a white Kodak executive was found beaten to death in a seedy part of the city. A young black woman working as a prostitute was arrested along with her pimp. The Rochester Police Department had its share of bad detectives, and a particularly notorious one beat confessions out of the two. Both were sentenced to 25 years to life. In 1998 the woman’s conviction was overturned, and she settled with the City for 1.2 million dollars. Someone sent her to our financial planning firm, to see if we could help her use the money as a path to a better life. She was 25 when she went to prison, and 50 when she got out. She was poorly educated, had no job skills and a long although unjustified prison record. She returned to the crime-ridden neighborhood where her family still lived, and attempted to build a new life.
Her story did not have a happy ending. I’m hoping that life for the Central Park Five will be better.
See the Netflix series if you can. It’s sobering.