Labiba Anjumi Kabir
When They See Us is an American drama mini-series written and directed by Ava DuVernay for the production company, Netflix. The series follows the Central Park Jogger’s case, where five male suspects, all people of colour, were falsely accused of assault, robbery, riot, rape, sexual abuse, and the attempted murder of a white woman in 1989. Based on true events, this series consists of 4 parts, and aired on 31 May, 2019. The series goes to show us the horror of injustice in America and how much it affects people of colour.
The infamous chronicle of the Central Park Five gripped the country, beginning from 1989 to 2014 — Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise, and Raymond Santana were framed in a case as media delineated people of colour. Portraying them as coming from downtown, from a world of crack, welfare, guns, knives, indifference, and ignorance, they were made out to be coming from the wild province of the poor, and driven by a collective fury brining in the rippling energies of youth, their minds teeming with violent images. But the discrepancy in the image lies in how justice has been served wrong day after day, and how many actual criminals have been set off the hook because they were privileged white males.
On the night of 19 April, 1989, Trisha Meili was jogging in the park, while a group of African- American and Hispanic teenagers were hanging around. At the same time, there were reports of harassment and attacks on eight other people, ranging from north woods to the reservoir, except Trisha. Her unconscious body was found in a corner with track marks, a sock which had semen samples, and substantive physical evidence, but the police decided to overlook everything because they found a group of black teenagers nearby. They were quick to judge that the five men of colour were the rapists. The case was racially motivated, considering how all of the five men were African-American or Hispanic; conclusions were made and pursued in a vacuum.
Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise, and Raymond Santana — known as the Central Park Five — were indicted of the rape and assault of Trisha Meili and other charges relating to the other attacks a week after the confession. They were tried in two trials and found guilty. Kevin, Yusef, Antron, and Raymond served between 6-7 years in juvenile facilities, and Korey served 13 years as an adult.
In 2002, Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and serial rapist, confessed to the rape of Trisha. When observed, his DNA matched to the semen and substantive physical evidence at the park. A strong motivation of race worked behind solving and closing the case as soon as possible. Even after Reyes’s confession, Linda Fairstein kept insisting that the five boys’ coerced statements were reliable, even when the confessions and DNA conflicted with the central facts of the crime.
Written and directed by Ava DuVernay, When They See Us is a dramatised account of the Central Park Jogger’s Case. Asante Blackk, Caleel Harris, Ethan Herisse, Jharell Jerome, and Marquis Rodriguez played the protagonists in the series and received acclaim for their performances and casting. When They See Us was nominated under 11 categories at the 71st Emmy Awards. Jharell Jerome received the accolade of Outstanding Lead actor, and Ellis, Nash, Blackk, Leguizamo, Williams, Blake, and Farmiga all received nominations for their performances.
This is a coherent, dense, and lucid series which illustrates the indisputable consequences of systemic racism. It is the kind of show which will keep you bingeing for hours, all the while being gut-wrenching and heartbreaking. The cast validates the story with the black community, instilling a feeling of understanding about how the police, the city, and the state constantly compartmentalise people based on colour.
When They See Us is not a typical, feel-good crime series from which one comes out feeling relieved for the victims. We are too aware of the reality of the situation, and it happens a lot more than shown and covered by the media. The Central Park case took place in 1989 and yet, in 2020, we can still see the police mounting conspiracies with prosecutors completely based on discrimination; overlooking conflicting evidence in order to expedite a trial; granting privileges to white men; and falsely accusing people of colour.
The series goes beyond just one case. It only depicts one of the many ways justice is denied because of race. It is an entire social movement against the unjust treatment that people of colour face on a regular basis to this day.