When They See Us
It's important that film and TV reflects today's social issues, and "When They See Us" is a series that works to encourage change in the justice system. (Illustration by Amelia Fins | Montclair State University)

Does ‘When They See Us’ Make You Uncomfortable? Good.

Ava DuVernay’s four-part Netflix series does not shy away from reaving just how broken the U.S. justice system is.

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When They See Us

Ava DuVernay’s four-part Netflix series does not shy away from reaving just how broken the U.S. justice system is.

When They See Us, is a must watch four-part limited series by American filmmaker, Ava DuVernay — known for“Selmaand “A Wrinkle in Time.” “When They See Usdocuments the 1989 Central Park jogger case, which resulted in the wrongful conviction of five African American boys for the rape of Trisha Meili.

To give a little background on the Central Park jogger case, it centers around the rape and assault of a 28-year-old white woman, Trisha Meili, which took place on April 19, 1989 in Central Park. On that same night in April of 1989, a group of approximately 20 young African-American boys were in Central Park terrorizing the occasional bicyclist passing by.

During the investigation of Meili’s rape, the New York City police department was desperate to put an end to the series of rapes that had been terrorizing the city in the months prior. To solve their desperation, they pinned the crime on the boys present in the park that same night.

DuVernay’s “When They See Us” follows the stories of Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise — all wrongly convicted of Meili’s rape and assault. The four-part series begins by shedding light on the corrupt investigation led by the New York City police department in the Meili case.

During the investigation, the boys were coerced and forced to confess and implicate one another of a crime — a crime that they had no prior knowledge of. The limited series then goes on to follow the two trials of the five boys. The first trial included Antron, Yusef and Raymond. The second trial involves Korey and Kevin. Of the five boys convicted of the crime Korey Wise was the only one charged as an adult in the case.

Both Part 3 and 4 of this series centers around the boys experiences in prison and their life once they get out of prison. In the end, their convictions were overturned and all five men were exonerated of their crimes.

Although “When They See Us” can be tough to sit through and watch, the series hits home and is still a harsh reality for many African American and minority youth in the United States today. Just as those five men were wrongfully convicted of a crime, numerous others have had similar experiences.

According to the Innocence Project, a group dedicated to freeing the wrongfully convicted, 365 men and women have been exonerated to date and roughly 62 percent of those freed were African American. The series serves as a cautionary tale and raises awareness of the brokenness of our justice system and depicts the harsh realities of minority children. Those three reasons are why the series is an absolute must watch.

Raising Awareness of How Broken the U.S. Justice System Is

“When They See Us” does a phenomenal job highlighting the brokenness of our justice system. Throughout the entire series, there are depictions of corrupt practices both in the police precinct and by the prosecutors in charge of the Central Park jogger case.

From coercing and forcing confessions out of unaccompanied minors, to withholding evidence from the defense, there was all kinds of corruption and misdeeds happening during this case and trial. The series reveals just how easy it is for corrupt police officers and law officials to get away with falsifying narratives and withholding evidence.

You might be wondering why is this important? Shedding light and calling attention to our broken justice system, can help the future generations of lawyers and law enforcement officers to fix the problems. Hopefully one day our justice system can truly be equal but, until then, the story of these five men and current events happening today goes to show that we have not reached a point of true equality.

 A Cautionary Tale

DuVernay’s limited four-part series serves as a cautionary tale to us all. Several lessons can be learned through watching what these men went through during their trials and time in prison. The main take away from the series, in my opinion, is to know your rights when being apprehended and questioned by the police.

During the reenactment of the boys being questioned by police, it was clear that most, if not all of them, were completely unaware of their rights. They were unaware that, as minors, a parent had to be present during the questioning process. They were unaware that the police cannot promise anything in exchange for a confession. They were unaware of the fact that by implicating each other in the crime, they all in turn looked guilty.

If you take just one thing away from watching this four-part series, it should be to educate yourself on your rights when being questioned or apprehended by the police. It’s surprising how many youth and young adults today are unsure or unaware of their rights.

Shedding Light on the Harsh Realities of Being a Minority in the U.S.

In today’s political and social climate, being a minority is not easy. There have been several senseless killings and wrongful convictions made in recent years. “When They See Us” highlights how African Americans are viewed in the eyes of our criminal justice system.

The most startling part of the series is that our current president, Donald Trump, took out numerous front-page ads advocating for the five boys wrongfully convicted in the Central Park jogger case to be put to death. He paid millions of dollars for these ads. If those boys had been just slightly older, they all would’ve been charged as adults for the crime. Being charged as an adult at 16-years-old should not be the norm, but for many minority children this is the case.

“When They See Us” highlights several issues in the American justice system that are still prevalent today. While this four-part limited series may provoke tears and anger to build up inside, it is definitely worth the watch. And it’s okay to feel angry or sad after watching the series because these men suffered at the hands of a corrupt justice system. So, if you are just a lover of crime documentaries or future lawyer or law enforcement officer, take the time to watch this series and hopefully be a part of the change our justice system so badly needs.

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