Friday, May 31, 2019

REVIEW: 'When They See Us' - An Attack in Central Park Changes the Lives of Five Teens in 'Part One'

Netflix's When They See Us - Episode 1.01 "Part One"

In the spring of 1989, five boys of color are arrested, interrogated and coerced into confessing to the vicious attack of a woman in Central Park.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of Netflix's When They See Us.

"Part One" was written by Ava DuVernay, Julian Breece & Robin Swicord and directed by Ava DuVernay

The amount of coercion and intimidation on the part of the police and prosecutors here is absolutely sickening and spine-tingling. This is a very difficult hour to watch. It's so important because it highlights how the system continually fails people of color. Prosecutor Linda Fairstein can speak passionately about investigating sex crime cases. And yet, she just wants a quick conclusion to this case because she already views the crowd of young men in the park as a bunch of wild animals. The opening minutes of this premiere show how most of the people in the park went there for a sense of community and to simply have fun with their peers. Sure, there were dangerous things that went on. People were intimidated and beat up. However, it's all predominately a case of these five teens being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The audience is fundamentally aware that all of this is heading towards tragedy. If they would have just stayed at home instead of going into the park, they probably wouldn't have been condemned in the eyes of the law. But if it wasn't Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise, then the police would have pinned the crime on someone else who looked exactly like them. The investigation zeroed in on these individuals even though none of them had any connection to the case whatsoever. This story depicts it all as a case of vicious prosecution in order to deliver a swift answer to a brutal story of rape in which the victim remains in critical condition. They see a pattern of abusive behavior and believe that anyone who was in the park that night could be capable of this crime. That's not true at all. Most of them are completely baffled as to what's happening to them. They continue to proclaim their innocence in all of this. They believe their friends can vouch for them and how they couldn't have committed these crimes. And yet, the police look at everyone with suspicion. Korey goes to the station in order to support his friend. He doesn't want to leave him alone there. But then, he is looked at as another suspect who needs to be interrogated and coerced into delivering the narrative that the investigation just wants to establish as soon as possible. It doesn't matter that halfway through this the entire timeline is destroyed. The jogger was in the park and attacked at the same time as when the crowd of teens was elsewhere. None of these teens could be responsible for the crime. But that doesn't matter to these investigators. They believe they have their criminals. As such, they will craft any narrative in order to make it fit. One lawyer raises concerns that there isn't one piece of physical evidence. She is concerned about taking this to trial. But even then, those concerns are alleviated because the police can just beat Korey into submission. That's how they view this case. They won't let anything resembling evidence or ethics get in the way of what they perceive to be the job. The teens are coached to just go along with what the detectives are saying in the hopes of getting out of this alive. Those promises are delivered. Along the way though, the police are doing whatsoever they can to break the law and coerce these statements. They interview minors without a parent or guardian present. They get people to sign away their rights without knowing what it all means. It's truly disgusting behavior. But it all comes at a great human cost. The family members don't even know what's happening to their sons and brothers for a long time. These teens are held and interrogated until they are broken. They are assaulted too. They are the victims of this case. But the story is just getting started. There remains that fleeting hope that the truth will eventually set them free. However, there is the fundamental awareness that that freedom is a long time away with much more devastation happening in the interim. That's scary and shows the profound consequences of people who abuse their positions of power to project their biases onto the world.