When they see Us

A four-part Netflix series is crucial viewing to understand today’s America.

A  four-part Netflix series is crucial viewing to understand today’s America.
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(When they see Us)

A four episode series written and directed by Ava Duvernay about the Central Park Five, in which five boys aged 14 to 16- none of whom were white – raping a jogger in 1989 then convicted of the crime in 1990.

When they see us tells the story in four parts. Before the title cards even appear in the first episode, the attack on Trisha Meili has happened.

The episode shows how all five boys who almost knew each other were caught up in the hunt for the attackers and pushed by the police into admitting into the crime.

In the second episode the trial happens, while in the third episode four of the five boys go to jail where after release things aren’t much better.

Donald Trump is a minor key figure in that case:

 In 1989, as the case moved to trial, he spent about $85,000 of his own money to take out a full-page ad in New York City’s four major newspapers that called for the teenagers’ execution. “I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer,” the ad read. “Yes, Mayor Koch, I want to hate these murderers and I always will. ... How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits? Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!”


Twelve years after the boys’ conviction, the actual rapist confessed, and the young men were eventually exonerated after DNA from the rapist matched DNA found at the crime scene. (When asked about the case as recently as 2016, then-candidate Trump did not change his tune.

All of these elements come together in When They See Us in service of a pointed theme. Duvernay has made a true crime series, with interlocking crimes. Part of it is concerned with discerning what really happened to Trisha Meili, but the rest considers the crime committed against the five young men. The criminal justice system is more committed to politics than the truth — and its master is plain, old-fashioned American racism.

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