The Heartbreaking Story Behind The Netflix Documentary “When They See Us”


Warning: This article contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.

I am not a Netflix type of girl, but I do love a good documentary.

I spent the last two days screaming, crying, and cursing like a damn sailor while watching When They See Us . If you’re looking for a documentary series that will take you on an emotional roller coaster, then you should definitely watch When They See Us.  

When They See Us is a four-episode Netflix mini-series based on the story of the Central Park Five.

These five Harlem teens lived a nightmare after police officers falsely accused them of the brutal rape of a white woman in New York’s Central Park.  

On April 19, 1989, a large group of African-American and Latino teens took to the town, enjoying themselves and “wilding out.” Police arrested them after someone reported that they were harassing people. Around the same time, officers discovered a brutally beaten, raped 28-year-old female jogger in a ravine within the park.

Linda Fairstein led the investigation for The Central Park Jogger, and she hoped to solve the case at all costs. When Fairstein learned that police had arrested four black teen boys and a Latino (Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, and Kevin Richardson) the same night for “wilding out,” she knew she could easily accuse them ofthe rape, too.

Fairstein’s team investigated the scene and interrogated the boys. Many facts did not match up, and the evidence even proved the teens’ innocence. However, investigators ignored these facts and put the boys behind bars anyway. All Fairstein cared about was solving the case and being a hero.

The five terrified boys did not understand why the police held them in jail when they didn’t even break the law.

During the interrogation, the boys repeatedly assured that they were innocent. The investigators threatened and forced the boys to record confessions.

Before the trial, the boys redacted their confessions and shared the truth. Despite all the evidence proving their innocence, the jury found them guilty, and all five boys served many years in prison.

The 5 Central Park Boys finally received vindication when Matias Reyes, a murderer and serial rapist, confessed that he was the actual perpetrator of the Central Park Jogger rape. DNA evidence backed up his confession, and the Central Park Five were exonerated. The boys received a total settlement of $41 million, but no amount of money could ever give them back the years that they spent behind bars.

I found this series disturbing because it discourages many people from trusting the police and the government. How can people in power protect us when it seems like often, they are against us? Who can we trust?

When They See Us reminds us how easily the entire legal system can work against us.

I will never comprehend how Linda Fairstein and her team can sleep at night. They worked so hard to make these five boys look like monsters when the real monsters put innocent boys away for crimes they did not commit.

However, When They See Us is also an inspiring story of hope, resilience, and strength. These five boys endured beatings, discrimination, insults, and even prison. They suffered tremendous pain but never lost hope. When people wished for their death, they pushed to live another day. When people showed hate, they remained kind.

This documentary reminded me that, even 30 years later, racism still runs rampant in the United States. We constantly hear about police shooting innocent African-American men and discriminating against Latinos based on their citizenship status. America must work towards change. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what color your skin is or where you came from, because we are all human.

The most important lesson I learned from When They See Us is that even though our bodies may break and our skin may bruise, no one can ever break our spirit, harden our hearts, or turn our souls cold. Like The Central Park Five, we can overcome anything with a brave heart and an undying spirit.

Previously Published on Thought Catalog.

Featured Photo via Netflix


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