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Central Park Five prosecutor dropped by publisher after Netflix airs 'When They See Us'

The move comes just over a week after the release of the new Netflix mini-series

Author and former prosecutor Linda Fairstein has been dropped from publishers Dutton after a renewed outcry against her role in the Central Park Five interrogations. Getty Images
Author and former prosecutor Linda Fairstein has been dropped from publishers Dutton after a renewed outcry against her role in the Central Park Five interrogations. Getty Images

Ever since the release of the new Netflix mini-series When They See Us, which explores the story of the five teens falsely accused of a brutal attack in Central Park in 1989, people haven't stopped talking about it.

Now, Linda Fairstein, the former US prosecutor-turned-crime novelist, has been dropped by her publisher after Ava DuVernay's four-part series shed new light on the court case that dominated headlines 30 years ago.

There has been a renewed outcry over Fairstein's role in the wrongful conviction of a group of black and Hispanic teenagers, known as the 'Central Park Five', who were wrongly accused of the rape of a female jogger.

While the teens were exonerated in 2002, the Netflix show has inspired a #CancelLindaFairstein movement on social media. And it's working.

Who are the Central Park Five?

Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise, who were all aged between 14 and 16 at the time of the attack, were arrested and interrogated for hours without access to lawyers or their parents.

They had confessed to the crime, which was committed against a white 28-year-old investment banker, but later recanted. They said their admissions had been coerced by police. The victim had no memory of the attack.

Fairstein, who has written 20 novels since the 1990s, was a leading sexual crimes prosecutor in Manhattan back then, and she observed the interrogation. She has maintained the five boys were not coerced.

However, the convictions were overturned in 2002 after Matias Reyes, a repeat violent offender, confessed to the attack.

Why now?

Ava DuVernay's series has brought the case back into the spotlight. Dutton, a Penguin Random House imprint and Fairstein's publisher, has said it has ended its relationship with the novelist amid the backlash.

"I can confirm that Linda Fairstein and Dutton have decided to terminate their relationship. We have no further comment," publicity director Amanda Walker said in a statement to the BBC.

Fairstein, 72, has also reportedly resigned from the boards of at least two not-for-profit organisations. She has yet to comment on the issue.

What's Oprah got to do with it?

The talk show host and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey was deeply affected by the series. She will be airing a special, Oprah Winfrey Presents When They See Us Now, on June 12, when she will sit down with the five men (who DuVernay now calls the 'Exonerated Five') at the centre of the case, and DuVernay herself.

Winfrey added a couple of posts on her Instagram feed about the project. She wrote in one: "If you haven’t seen yet...please do. And for everyone who says it’s 'hard to watch,' think about the people who still find it 'hard to live.' All those families impacted! So proud of my sister friend @ava!"

And what about Michael B Jordan?

The American actor Michael B Jordan praised the five men for their courage during a luncheon where the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California honoured the new Netflix series.

Jordan told Salaam, McCray, Richardson, Santana and Wise that he cannot watch footage of the series without getting emotional. "It's dangerous in America when you're living in a black body," he said.

Salaam was seen crying as he accepted an award on behalf of DuVernay. "I'm not ashamed to cry in front of you," he said after a moment of silence. "Our story is a story of an egregious miscarriage of justice."

Updated: June 8, 2019 03:35 PM

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