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Central Park Five
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Most faculty will use their summer to prepare for upcoming classes in some regard. For me, this summer involved viewing “When They See Us” on Netflix. It is my personal opinion that this should be REQUIRED viewing for ALL students, but particularly Criminal Justice students. This four part series dealt with the infamous Central Park Five case, which many of us are very aware of. If not, here are the details at a quick glance: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Park_jogger_case (Yes, I know this is Wikipedia.. But you just need the general facts about the case if you do not know them.) 

 

This case made national headlines at the time, including a full page ad taken out in the Daily News by then real estate mogul Donald Trump calling for the death penalty for the five accused teenagers. 

 

This case is now thirty years old. However, its significance remains. I applaud the filmmakers of “When They See Us” for reasserting the importance of this case, as very little has changed. The case deals with important issues such as: juvenile justice, race, wrongful convictions, sexual assault, juvenile delinquency, reentry, drug use, solitary confinement, prosecutor misconduct, political activism, and the list goes on. I believe the case can be discussed in some form in every single Criminal Justice class we teach. 

 

I have discussed the case in numerous classes, however Ava Duvraney’s rendition, working with the wrongfully convicted men changes the landscape. It is intense, provocative, and thought provoking. While episodes may be too long to show in class I implore you to find a way to use at least clips in class. Be aware of the intensity (I actually went and watched Aladdin in between episodes because of it--I needed a “happy” place before returning to the film). 

 

Places I feel this case is most significant: 

  • Discussion of the criminal defense system in the United States. Gideon v. Wainwright guarantees an attorney for those who cannot afford it, but is that enough? 
  • Discussion of race and socio-economic status in our Criminal Justice System. The CJ system has undergone plenty of reforms in the last thirty years, but have they been enough? What problems still remain? (There are a lot of them…) 
  • Discussion of racial profiling by police AND prosecutors. This case is an excellent example of the conclusions we jump to based solely on how someone looks. 
  • Discussion of juvenile and youthful offenders. What is the right sentence for a juvenile who commits a crime? Should a 17 and 18 year old who commit a crime together be treated differently? 
  • WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS. What should we do AFTER a conviction has been overturned? How do we help individuals find some resemblance of life? 

 

 

Resources

 

What are your thoughts on this case? How will you use it in class?