Many years ago, police officers stormed our home without a search warrant or probable cause. We were threatened, mistreated, berated and spoken to like a children who had grossly misbehaved. This is not an unfamiliar scenario for many in America when it comes to law enforcement. They break the rules, twist and turn the facts to suit their political agendas without any regard for the lives being ruined in their path. Often times, the innocent are coerced into confessions after being unjustly arrested, given no choice and no means of turning back time to obtain the truth.
One night in New York City, a young female jogger went for a run in Central Park. That same night a group of young, black teenagers were also in the park ‘wilding out.’ The result was a victim of rape and five young men being accused of the dastardly crime. The city of New York was on edge and racial tensions rose to an all time high on each and every borough. The incident even prompted $85,000 worth of ads in all major NYC papers purchased by Donald Trump calling for the execution of the boys known as The Central Park 5 before a trial had even been set. Can you imagine our future President basically called for a modern day lynching in the same manner he now accuses immigrants of being drug dealers, murderers and rapists. Mind boggling isn’t it?
Now, Director Ava Duvernay is shedding the light on a corrupt an inhumane justice system is and how it failed five innocent men robbed of their youth. In a four part series to stream via Netflix on May 31st, the audience is taken for a full ride from the start of that day through their release 20 years later. You will watch in horror and some disbelief as these young men are repeatedly referred to as animals, little shits, interrogated for 18 hours with no food, no parents and having their rights violated as if they had committed murder. Your heart breaks when you watch Tron’s Dad (after being threatened by officers) encourages his son to lie as a means to save his own ass so they can both go home. Home. A place that none of them would see for nearly 20 years.
I’m not gonna lie, When They See Us is excruciatingly hard to watch, but necessary. Hard to watch, because it is yet another instance in which people of color in this country are continually victimized , polarized and disrespected as human beings/members of a society that doesn’t value our worth in the world. The Prosecutor for the case dug in at the trial knowingly neglecting to reveal evidence concerning a sock with semen that matched none of the young men on trial. A fact that to this day is challenged by the NYPD investigators and the jogging victim herself – revisited through a recent ABC 20/20 report and a The Central Park PBS documentary based on the book written by Sarah Burns. The records and transcripts from the trial are now public record and can be obtained via a link provided at the end of the 20/20 special report.
We learn first hand how the innocently imprisoned are affected and the stress and strain it puts on the families. How even though you are released from that mental prison for 20 years, you still have the prison mentality of eating cup-o-noodles, showering with clothes on, working out and never being able to put a band-aid over those open wounds. Simple things like applying for a job, going on a date are continuously marred by a past that shapes the future at every twist and turn. Even though they were collectively rewarded $41 million dollars and are continuing to make a difference by speaking out against the same injustices they injured over two decades ago, it make up for the time and years lost.
The cast is beyond stellar (kudos to Aisha Coley), but two performances permeated my mind well after the credits rolled – Niecy Nash as Delores Wise and Jharrel Jerome as Korey Wise. It was also not lost on me that Felecity Huffman as Linda Fairstein will come off as despicable – ironic isn’t it?
When They See us reminds viewers that race relations in our country continue to be strained. Here’s hoping that in our lifetime we will eventually see a day in which we are finally judged by the content of our character and NOT the color of our skin.