I am not your average Netflix or TV type person, but I have always been intrigued by documentaries or series based on true stories.
I spent the last two days screaming at my laptop, getting angry, crying and cursing like a damn sailor while watching When They See Us on Netflix. Watching this show sure had me on an emotional roller coaster. If you are looking for something to watch that will take you on a wild emotional ride, then you should watch When They See Us.
For those who haven’t seen the show:
WARNING: spoilers ahead
When They See Us is a four-episode miniseries on Netflix that tells the story five teens from Harlem that became trapped in a nightmare when they were falsely accused of the brutal rape of a white woman in Central Park.
It all started on the night of April 19, 1989. A large group of African-American and Latino teens were “wilding out”—term used in a way to say “having fun.” On this night, some locals called the police stating that these teens were out harassing and beating people up. Police showed up to the park and arrested several teens.
The same night, a 28-year-old female jogger was discovered in a ravine in Central Park. She became known as The Central Park Jogger, who had been brutally beaten, raped, and left for dead.
Linda Fairstein led the investigation, and she was hungry for justice to be served. She was determined to solve this case at all costs.
When Linda and her team found out that four black teen boys and a Latino boy—Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, and Kevin Richardson—were arrested the same night, they knew then that they had easy targets to accuse for this violent crime.
They investigated the scene and interrogated the boys. A lot of things did not match up, and they even knew that evidence proved that there was no way that these teens committed the crime. They knew it, but they ignored the facts and wanted to make sure these boys ended up behind bars. All they cared about was solving a case so they could be heroes.
The five boys were scared to death, and they did not understand why they were being held when they didn’t do anything. During the interrogations the boys kept telling the investigators that they didn’t do it and they just wanted to go home. The investigators beat them up, threatened them and told the boys that they would let them go home if they just cooperated and said what they wanted them to say.
The boys were coerced into agreeing that they committed the crime. They were so desperate to go home, and were willing to do anything so they could go home and for the nightmare to end. Investigators told them what to say before filming their so-called confessions.
Before trial started, the five boys went back on their confessions, saying they had been coerced into giving false statements. Despite all the evidence proving that they were innocent, they were found guilty and served years in prison.
Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, and Kevin Richardson were tried as minors and sentenced to five to 10 years in a youth correctional facility (where they could be held until they turned 21). Korey Wise, on the other hand, was tried as an adult and was sentenced to up to 15 years—all of which were to be spent in an adult prison.
The five Central Park Boys, now men, finally saw a light of hope in 2002 when Matias Reyes, a murderer and serial rapist, confessed to being the actual perpetrator of the Central Park Jogger rape. DNA evidence backed up his confession, and the Central Park Five were exonerated. In 2014, after Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, they received a total settlement of $41 million — but all that money could never replace the time and the youth they lost or take away all of the pain and suffering they endured.
Watching this series was disturbing, as many of us are taught from a young age that police officers are not capable of brutal behavior and that they are supposed to protect us. The government is supposed to serve justice and get the “bad people.” But shows like this one discourages many people from going to the police for anything—it makes them not trust law enforcement or the government. How can they protect us when it seems like sometimes they are against us? Who can we trust?
When They See Us is a reminder of how easily the entire system can work in its favor. And we also got to see the ugly colors of some people that are in the system. I will never comprehend how Linda Fairstein, Elizabeth Ledered, and everyone else involved in putting these boys behind bars can sleep at night. They worked so hard to make these five boys look like monsters, but they are the real monsters for putting innocent children away for crimes they did not commit.
But this story is also about hope, resilience and strength. Many of us cannot not even fathom what it would be like to be in their shoes. These five boys were beaten, discriminated again, and insulted, and they spent their youth in jail. They suffered a tremendous amount of pain, but they never lost hope. They were beaten down, but they did not let the system break them. When everyone was wishing for death, they were trying to find ways just to live another day. And while the people that prosecuted them showed them hate, they remained kind.
This show opened my eyes even more to the racism in the United States, and it also made me realize that 30 years later, racism and discrimination against minorities has not changed much. We keep hearing about African-American men being shot and killed by police and Latinos being discriminated against because of their legal status or the way they roll their tongues. At the end of the day, your skin color, background, and ethnicity shouldn’t matter, because we all are humans.
As a nation, we’ve got to do better, America. I know we cannot change everyone, and we cannot change the world in an instant. But we have to be more compassionate and kind to our fellow human beings. We have to treat everyone with love and respect, because we haven’t walked in their shoes, and we don’t know how rough their path has been.
The most important lesson I learned from this show is that, even though some may break your body, bruise your skin, and hurt your bones, you should never let them break your spirit, harden your heart, and turn your soul cold. We can overcome anything with a brave heart and undying spirit.