I’m 45. Soon to be 46. When the Central Park jogger case happened, I was a junior in high school. I’m also white. And yes, that’s important to know. Here’s what I remembered:
- Wilding – scary thing happening with young men in Central Park.
- Young black men were accused.
- The young black men all knew each other. Because they were in a gang. Of sorts.
- She was raped. By strangers. And left to die. Raped while jogging.
Since I was a junior in high school, I think I realized the young men were falsely accused. And convicted. And that it was unjust. But they were exonerated. And got out of jail.
I’m a pretty lefty liberal woman who is highly educated. That’s the impressions I had in my head when I started When They See Us (@WhenTheySeeUs). I knew I had to watch this film because I watched Ava DuVernay’s (@ava) other films. And LEARNED. Because I listen to Pod Save the People (@PodSaveThePpl) and listen especially to the news raised by DeRay Mckesson (@deray), Samuel Sinyangwe (@samswey), Clint Smith III (@ClintSmithIII), and Brittany Packnett (@Ms.Packyetti). From them I’ve started to question why we have prisons and what it means that we are a society that imprisons people more than any other society in the world. More on that in a later blog.
But still – that’s the impression I had. Something really bad happened in Central Park, at night, with a white woman like me, with black men and the black men were falsely accused but now justice was done, and they were exonerated.
When They See Us is the story of Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise. These people were known originally as the Central Park Five but are now the Exonerated Five. Ava DuVernay directed the series and it is on Netflix right now.
I started with my memories and assumptions because I want you to know, despite being an educated liberal well-meaning white woman, everything I knew was wrong. Really wrong.
I learned this through the facts – and I learned this in my heart through Ava DuVernay’s storytelling. Point of view is important. One thing she has said consistently in press interviews is this is the story of the boys. Boys. Every shot at the police station is shot through the eyes of the boys. We look up at the people – whether the boys are walking or sitting. We look up through the camera with them – because they are boys.
There is so much I didn’t know and failed to learn about this case. But the fundamental truth of one giant fact – Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise were boys. In fact, as I sat in my bedroom in 1989 as a 16 year old junior in high school, I was older than each of those boys. Even and especially older than Korey Wise who was born in 1974 (at least 6 months after me). I was older than Korey Wise who was tried as an adult and served over 13 years in adult prisons.
I want to reiterate my memories. This is what I know about the Central Park jogger case and the Exonerated Five:
- She was raped. By a stranger. Brutally. And that is frightening and a crime and deserved a real investigation.
- “Wilding” is a phrase invented in the media – maybe based on some slang of “wilin’ out” – but our definition was and is purely created by the media.
- Kids were in Central Park that night hanging out, talking, running around. Doing the same things me and my brothers and their friends did in our neighborhood. Doing the same thing that kids from my high school did at the Mississippi River. The joyful gathering of youth.
- Five black boys were accused, forced into confessions by police tactics and strategy that continue to be practiced today, and served between six and thirteen years. Some of them had to live as convicted sex crime felons for years before they were finally exonerated.
- These five boys – Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise – were younger than I was. They were boys
There’s so much more I could say – and will say – about When They See Us. But I think it’s important for white women like me to have these conversations out loud and with each other. It’s part of the racist learning we must actively unlearn. I know I must not just not be racist – I must be anti-racist.
Start with When They See Us. Start with So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo (@OjeomaOlou). Start with following any of the people I mentioned in my small blog post. Start by listening.
Start with being anti-racist.