Central Park Five Prosecutor Objects to Ava DuVernay’s ‘When They See Us’

Netflix’s ‘When They See Us’ inspires petition against prosecutor Linda Fairstein

As of Wednesday morning, more than 82,000 people have signed a Change.org petition against prosecutor-turned-novelist Linda Fairstein.

Fairstein, who has published 20 mystery novels, was the lead prosecutor in the 1989 Manhattan case involving five teenagers wrongfully charged in the rape of a woman in New York’s Central Park. The harrowing case is the subject of a new Ava DuVernay-directed “When They See Us” Netflix documentary series.

» RELATED: Central Park 5 prosecutor resigns from nonprofit boards

The Change.org petition, inspired in part by a #CancelLindaFairstein hashtag following the series release, calls for retailers to quit selling Fairstein’s books and for publishers to stop working with her.

“Linda Fairstein led a witch hunt against five teenage boys even though the physical evidence didn't support her theory she raged on with one goal in mind & that was to get a conviction,” petition leaders wrote on the website.

In the Netflix series, Fairstein is portrayed by actress Felicity Huffman as connecting the young boys—Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise—to the rape early on.

Fairstein observed the boys' 1989 interrogation, conducted by another prosecutor and police. She didn't personally try the case.

» RELATED: Think you know the Central Park Five? Ava DuVernay's Netflix drama ‘When They See Us’ brings 'nuance' to case

The teens have long said they were coerced into confessing their involvement in the attack. Their convictions were overturned in 2002 after convicted murderer and serial rapist Matias Reyes confessed to committing the crime alone, and DNA linked him to it.

The city of New York reached a roughly $41 million settlement with the five following a Ken Burns documentary in 2013, while not admitting any wrongdoing.

In an interview with the Daily Beast, DuVernay said Fairstein tried to “negotiate” her portrayal in the new Netflix documentary series.

“I don't know if I've told anyone this, but she tried to negotiate conditions for her to speak with me, including approvals over the script and some other things," DuVernay said. “So you know what my answer was to that, and we didn't talk.”

Fairstein defended her actions in the New York Law Journal, originally penned in July 2018, was republished Monday in lieu of the series release and controversy surrounding it.

“The confessions were not coerced,” the then sex crimes prosecutor wrote. “The questioning was respectful, dignified, carried out according to the letter of the law and with sensitivity to the young age of the men.”

On Tuesday, the president of Vassar College posted a letter on its website saying Fairstein had resigned as a Board of Trustees member.

The victims services agency Safe Horizon also confirmed Fairstein's resignation Tuesday, thanking her for "her decades of pioneering work on behalf of victims of sexual assault and abuse."

Fairstein told the New York Post she was forced to act because of the "mob-mentality reaction" to the Netflix series, which has sparked a #CancelLindaFairstein movement and calls to withhold funding.

"Each of these organizations does great work," she said. "It's so foolish of the bullies to punish the charities. Totally pig-headed and stupid."

Santana, one of the teenagers arrested, prosecuted and convicted in the 1989 case, told TMZ the backlash and boycott against Fairstein is warranted.

“Even if it's 30 years later, she has to pay for her crime,” he said.

Associated Press reports were used in this report.

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About the Author

Fiza Pirani
Fiza Pirani
Fiza Pirani is a web producer and writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She is also the editor behind AJC’s Pulse Magazine, a digital healthcare...
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