Netflix Central Park Five Series Spotlights Criminal Justice Problems. We Still Haven’t Fixed Them

Stephen Henderson and guests discuss the case, the Netflix series dramatizing it, and what it all says about the American carceral state.

Jake Neher/WDET

In 1989, five teenage boys from Harlem were arrested and charged with the rape and beating of a white female jogger in Central Park. They were treated with disrespect, distrust and made to feel less than human. The prosecutors and media turned them into a singular unit: the Central Park Five.

Director Ava DuVernay is retelling their story for a new generation with a Netflix mini-series called When They See Us. It is compelling television, although very hard to watch. It addresses the fact that discrimination against people of color is something just as relevant today as it was 30 years ago, and Donald Trump plays a role as well, taking out ads in New York papers calling for the death penalty for the boys.

The catch is that the boys didn’t commit the crime, yet served years behind bars anyway.

On Detroit Today, Stephen Henderson and guests discuss the series and what viewers in 2019 can learn from it.

Jen Chaney is a TV critic for Vulture. She wrote a review titled, “When They See Us Is an Intimate, Sensitive Look at the Central Park Five Tragedy.”

Jonathan C. Moore is partner in the law firm of Beldock, Levine & Hoffman, LLP. He was involved in both of the settlements for the men. His area of practice is civil rights with a focus on police and governmental misconduct, employment discrimination, First Amendment advocacy and international human rights.

Heather Ann Thompson is a native Detroiter, a and historian on faculty of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who researches and writes about the American carceral state and the racial injustices of our criminal justice system in the United States.

Click on the audio player above to hear those conversations.


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