“When They See Us” unleashes fury on former prosecutors

By Brittany Cruz-Fejeran

Former prosecutors of the “Central Park Jogger” case, Linda Fairstein and Elizabeth Lederer, are drowning in public outrage, and their professional associates are abandoning ship after the release of new Netflix miniseries “When They See Us.”

They played key roles in the trial and conviction of five black and brown teens for the heinous attack of a female jogger. The teens were later found to be not guilty.

It was in 1989 when Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Antron McCray — later known as the Central Park Five — were wrongly convicted for beating and gang-raping Trisha Meili while she was jogging in Central Park.

Those teenagers — who were 14, 15 and 16 years old at the time — were sentenced to a range of five to 15 years in prison. The case made national news, causing outcry and fear over the increase of random violent crime, particularly in the nation’s big cities. Young minorities soon became the targets of a criminal justice system that grew vastly more aggressive in response. 

However, the five boys had nothing to do with the crime. Another person, Malias Reyes — a serial rapist and murderer — confessed to beating and raping Meili a dozen years later. The five teens were exonerated after Reyes’ DNA matched the samples found at the scene. Although they were given a settlement of $41 million from the city, the government did not take responsibility for the wrongful convictions — nor did Fairstein and Lederer.

Due to the public scrutiny against Fairstein and Lederer, many companies and organizations associated with them have terminated their relationship or being pressured to by members of the community to do so.

Fairstein was a renowned New York City prosecutor turned famed crime novelist.

Mystery Writers of America bestowed the Grand Master Award to Fairstein, but only two days later it was taken away in response to a large percentage of members who did not support her getting such an honor.  

Her publisher Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House and Hollywood literacy agency ICM Partners, also parted ways with her. She resigned from the board of trustees at her alma mater Vassar College to protect the school from the criticism being thrown at her.

Fairstein, told the New York Post that the “mob-mentality reaction” caused by the Netflix show forced her to send additional letters of resignation to several organizations. She resigned from the board of Safe Horizon, the country’s largest victim services non-profit organization.She is also no longer on the board for God’s Love We Deliver and Joyful Heart Foundation, a non-profit that focuses on aiding sexual assault survivors.

“Each of these organizations does great work,” she told the newspaper. “It’s so foolish of the bullies to punish the charities. Totally pig-headed and stupid.”

The Columbia University Black Students’ Organizations railed against the former prosecutors, both of whom have ties to the school. It urged the school to fire Lederer as a lecturer and revoke the Award of Excellence presented to Fairstein by the school of medicine. The student organization kick-started a petition calling Columbia University to action.

“While these five innocent teenagers were disgraced by the media and the American public, stripped of their most basic rights and freedoms, and robbed of their childhoods, the women who were directly involved in their persecution were praised, awarded, and even employed by an institution located right in Harlem’s backyard, which many of these boys and their families called home,” they said in a statement on their change.org petition. As of this article, they have 12,631 signatures out of their 15,000 goal.

Lederer announced she would not be renewing her teaching application for the following year soon after the action.

Another petition created by Ryan Swink urged retailers and publishers to stop selling and marketing Fairstein’s books. As of this article, they have 219,524 signatures out of their 300,000 goal. Another attempt at boycotting Fairstein is #CancelLindaFairstein movement on social media.

Santana, one of the falsely accused, told TMZ: “In 1989 when all those articles were written about us, there were over 400 articles written about us in the first two weeks of this case and 90 percent of those articles never mentioned alleged, that was the backlash that we received and now she’s receiving it,” he said. “When you do dirt, you can’t run, no matter how long it is the truth comes out and even though it’s thirty years later she has to pay for her crime whether it’s in the courtroom or socially. It is what it is.”

Brittany Cruz-Fejeran is a National Jurist intern. She attends Southwestern College in Chula Vista, California, where she serves as the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper.