Fairstein—By any means necessary? Artwork: Jacqueline Luna Contact @whoyagonnacall
In 1989 five boys were wrongly accused of raping a White woman in Central Park, demonized by local media, and eventually railroaded and convicted.
At the time of the vicious attack on the woman, investment banker Trisha Meili, Donald Trump, an unalloyed racist, fanned flames for lynch mobs by purchasing full-page advertisements in local newspapers screaming “Bring Back The Death Penalty” specifically to execute the five teenagers. “It’s hatred, and I want society to hate them,” Trump declared. He was only warming up, Trump has since taken his hate-mongering to an elevated podium, as president of the United States.
At the time of the attack, right wing columnist and sometimes-politician, Pat Buchanan, wrote that if “the eldest of that wolf pack were tried, convicted and hanged in Central Park, by June 1, and the 13- and 14-year-olds were stripped, horsewhipped, and sent to prison…the park might soon be safe again for women.” Even the New York Times referred to the boys as a “savage…wolf pack.”
and skinned, just as many innocent victims were historically summarily executed in the deep South–and that would have been the end of it. Those boys–now men–have names: Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, and Raymond Santana. They became known, derisively in many circles, as the Central Park Five. Today, many people refer to them as the Exonerated Five.
The boys were were serving prison terms when, in 2002, Matias Reyes, confessed that he was the rapist and that he’d acted alone. His DNA matched evidence collected at the scene. The five victims of the miscarriage of justice were exonerated. In 2014, after foot-dragging, the City of New York settled with them for $41 million.
The Central Park Five case takes many Black people back through the haunting pages of historical nightmares. Many Black people have perished after Black males were falsely accused of raping White women. About a century ago, the streets in the Greenwood section of Tulsa, Oklahoma, had Black-owned banks, restaurants, medical practices, real estate companies, and other businesses. The area was known as Black Wall Street. In 1921, after a Black man was falsely accused of trying to rape a White girl, this prosperous enclave was attacked by White mobs; even bombs were dropped from planes. An estimated 300 Black people were massacred and tens of millions of dollars worth of property destroyed or looted. The emerging Black elite was driven from town.
Black children were not spared. Fourteen year old Emmett Till was accused in 1955 of whistling at a White woman. Till’s eyes were gouged out and his mutilated body, with a bullet wound to the head, was later fished from the Tallahatchie River. This calumny, of Black males as predators hunting for White women, was popularized in the United States by D.W. Griffith’s 1915 pro-Ku Klux Klan movie “Birth of A Nation.” The film was screened in the White House by president Woodrow Wilson, Trump’s spiritual antecedent.
In May, “When They See Us,” a dramatized Netflix series about the Central Park tragedy directed by the noted filmmaker Ava DuVernay thrust the story back onto the front pages. The series also focused attention on the alleged misconduct of the individual who was key to the prosecution, Linda Fairstein, who headed the Sex Crimes unit in New York County (Manhattan) District Attorney’s office at the time of the crime. She was portrayed in the film as having dismissed evidence that pointed towards the boys’ innocence and having ignored doubts expressed by investigators and police. Her role in the debacle has been widely covered through the years.
After “When They See Us” was shown there was a backlash against Fairstein and a hashtag #CancelLindaFairstein sprung up. Her publisher, Dutton, a division of Penguin Random House, reportedly dropped her and bought off her contract. Fairstein resigned from the boards of a number of establishments including her alma mater Vassar College. A petition for booksellers such as Amazon to remove her titles had garnered 238,057 signatures as of October 6.
Now there is an ongoing campaign led by the civil rights organization Color of Change to have all cases supervised by Fairstein when she was at the Manhattan DA’s office reviewed. New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has teamed with Malachi Robinson, campaign director for criminal justice at Color of Change and others to lead this campaign.
A local newspaper has sneered at the effort, editorializing, “We know of only one case–a huge one, to be sure in which Ms. Fairstein was involved that went that badly awry. Let Mr. Williams, Mr. Robinson and their colleagues bring forth credible evidence that it wasn’t an isolated incident…”
We here at Black Star News mistakenly thought that it was the job of newspapers to investigate if indeed Fairstein was involved in other cases that led to miscarriage of justice. We need only recall that when the late Ken Thompson became District Attorney in Kings County, Brooklyn, he created a Conviction Review Unit which has since exonerated about 30 people including those who had served long sentences for serious crimes, including murder. We’re naive, so we invite anyone with information about cases Fairstein may have handled inappropriately to contact us via [email protected]
In any event if Fairstein believes her reputation was sullied she should be at the forefront of demanding that all her cases be reviewed.
Allimadi can be reached via [email protected] Follow him @allimadi