Firsthand Account: Watching ‘When They See Us’

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Janyce-Monique Johnson, Columnist

Netflix released a true-crime miniseries called “When They See Us” on May 31, 2019. Produced by Oprah, the miniseries consists of four parts telling the true story of five Black and Hispanic teenagers who were wrongfully convicted of attempted murder, assault, robbery and rape. America referred to them as the Central Park Five.

The series is important to watch because it brings to light an example of injustice against people of color that needs to be remembered and recognized. Stories like these motivated people all across America in 1990, last year and right now to march with Black Lives Matter and protest for police reform and justice.

The series follows the Central Park Jogger case of 1989; Trisha Meili, a white woman in her late 20s, was jogging in Central Park in New York City when she was beaten, raped, and left for dead. She was found several days later, and she could not remember anything about her assailant. 

The same night of her attack, 30 or so teenage boys were running through Central Park. Some of them were causing trouble and attacking people who were biking and walking in the park. The police picked up several of the boys in the group.

After hours of interrogation, the police determined that 14-year-old Kevin Richardson, 14-year-old Raymond Santana, 15-year-old Antron McCray, 15-year-old Yusef Salaam, and 16-year-old Korey Wise were responsible for the attack on Trisha. 

I watched this miniseries sometime last year, and as I watched it, I couldn’t help but cry. 

Part one

Part one of the miniseries showed the boys being interrogated for hours without their parents present. During the interrogations, the boys were threatened by the police and told that the only way they could go home was to confess. The detectives fed them information that would make their confessions plausible and recorded four of the five boys admitting to the crime against Trisha, a crime they didn’t commit. 

Part two

Part two focused on the trials. I watched in disbelief as the prosecution took the four taped confessions and used them as evidence for their case. As for physical evidence, there was none. None of the boys’ DNA matched the DNA found at the crime scene. For a moment, I believed the five boys would win their case, but they didn’t. The case became less about justice for Trisha Meili and more about politics when Donald Trump became involved, spending thousands of dollars on advertisements that pushed for harsh judicial punishment against the boys. A newspaper headline read, “Bring Back The Death Penalty, Bring Back Our Police!” 

Part three

Part three focused on Kevin, Raymond, Antron, and Yosuf, who all got out of prison after six to seven years. Many of them couldn’t get the jobs they wanted because they had a criminal record, and a lot of people hated them for what they were charged for. There wasn’t a place they could go without being recognized and harassed.

Part four

Part four made me cry the most. It focused on Korey Wise, the one out of the five to spend the most time in prison. There was scene after scene of him being beaten up by guards and other inmates. He transferred prisons multiple times, hoping to avoid further assault, but it continued. He spent most of his time in solitary for his own safety. After watching all the disheartening events unfold in this series, I finally reached the moment of resolution when things finally got better. Korey was released from prison when Trisha’s real attacker confessed. Matias Reyes had committed several similar attacks, he described Trisha’s attack in detail, and his DNA matched the crime scene. The charges against all five boys were dropped. 

Everyone should watch this miniseries because it exemplifies why movements like Black Lives Matter are so important. Korey, Kevin, Yusef, Raymond, and Antron were robbed of their youth, and it makes you question whether the same energy would’ve been given to them if they had not been boys of color. This series tells their story beautifully, and it even features all five of the real men. Be prepared to cry as I did.