*I want to start this post by saying that if you are not mentally ready to watch this show, take your time. Oprah’s interview with the cast and the men is up on Netflix and is only an hour long and is easier to process*
I’m positive many of you have either watched the Netflix series When They See Us or you’ve read an article about it because you weren’t ready to watch an actual reality play out. Wherever you are on the spectrum, I’m with you.
Surprisingly, I watched all four episodes in one sitting. Reflecting back on the emotions I felt while watching it do not compare to the emotional trauma the actual men in this case faced as young boys. I remember being about 30 minutes into the first episode and pressing pause because I felt my skin turn hot, my palms start to sweat, and my tear ducts going into overdrive. I had to mentally prepare myself for the rollercoaster Ava Duvernay was about to take me on.
Prior to watching When They See Us, I was already pretty familiar with the story of the “Central Park 5”, now known as the “Exonerated 5”. I remember hearing about them when I was younger but in 2016 I watched Ava Duvernay’s documentary, 13th, on Netflix. 13th focused on the 13th Amendment and how it was created to supposedly abolish slavery. The catch to that amendment is, slavery can still be legal if a person is incarcerated. In 13th, Duvernay, highlights the story of the Exonerated 5 and how America’s current president, 45 (I refuse to say or type his name still), spent thousands of dollars on an ad calling for the death penalty of Korey Wise, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Kevin Richardson, the falsely accused boys/men of the rape of a 28-year-old white woman.
It wasn’t until I watched When They See Us when I began to really understand what happened 30 years ago. I sat with this for a while. April 19, 1989 was about 6 months before I was born. It’s wild that 30 years later, shit like this still happens everyday. I think about all of the Black and brown men and women who are in prison now for crimes they didn’t commit. The prison system in our country is designed to eliminate us. I’m convinced. And the unjust justice system continues to be stagnant.
My heart cries and breaks every time I hear stories like these. I saw people posting articles about When They See Us being a horror film/series for Black and brown people but it’s more than that. The emotional, mental, and physical abuse that we as people of color face on a daily basis is a real life horror. Even in today’s time where we have camera phones and social media to expose the corrupt unjust justice system and police, we are still somehow villainized. “She shouldn’t have talked back.” “It looked like he was reaching for a gun.” “He was in the park.” It’s the same cycle of false accusations that we’ve seen for hundreds of years in this country.
The last point I want to make is the dynamics between white women and Black men. The institution of slavery has labeled Black men as predators to white women. We’ve seen countless images of white women running from Black men in fear for their lives. We’ve heard a number of stories of white women lying on Black men that has gotten Black men put in jail and/or lynched (*coughEmmettTillcough*). The story of the Exonerated 5 is an example of this dynamic. We witnessed five innocent children be labeled as sexual predators because of the vicious attack on a white woman. No DNA matched either boy; their confessions were coerced in the forms of threats, violence, and police telling them what to say; and the actual rapist confessed. Yet, the city of New York has not apologized; Linda Fairstein, the lead detective in this case, still refuses to admit wrongdoing; and these men are emotionally scarred for life. White women have had a say in the demise of our Black men since the beginning of time and find a way to turn victim when they are called out on their bullshit. Linda Fairstein, for example, is losing all of her endorsements and positions since this documentary aired and deems it unfair. She got to spend her life making millions of dollars and living the American dream while these boys were criminalized in the media, abused, lied on, and in prison. And that ladies and gents is white privilege.
America. We have to do better. To Korey, Yusef, Kevin, Antron, and Raymond and all the other Black and brown people in this country, I see you.
❤ Queen T