Several years ago, I watched a documentary on the Central Park 5. Before I knew it, I’d been sucked into their story. I remember them talking to the actual men present day. Their lives were completely changed since 1989. I felt sorry for them because even though they were living and working in their new cities and homes with families and “fresh starts,” but they had been robbed of their lives–critical years from boyhood to manhood. And it didn’t have to happen.
Since last month, I’d watched one other documentary, and in my usual fashion, I surfed the Internet for old stories and updates. I knew Donald Trump had managed to put himself in the middle of the debacle like the narcissist that he is. I knew that the detective was out here living her best life as an author, and I knew that some of the cops still believed those boys raped the jogger, despite DNA evidence from the rapist who confessed.
Even a few weeks ago to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the case, I watched a 20/20 special about it. Unlike the previous docs, they showed the real “confession” footage. I was angry because those innocent black and Latino boys and their families were tricked and coerced into telling tall tales about raping that woman. I was even angry at Korey Wise, in particular, because he was the most specific of them all. With every word, I saw his life crumbling…But he was just a kid who was mentally and emotionally exhausted and wanted to go home to his family. What else could he do? I turned it off.
Knowing Ava Duvernay’s Netflix series, When They See Us, was debuting, I’d made plans to get dinner and watch it immediately after work. The trailer was tethering on an emotional film, but that’s what Ava, a gifted filmmaker, does, right? At the least, I knew these, now men, had been exonerated and paid millions. Knowing the end would make the beginning easy.
I was wrong. By the 20-minute mark, I’d exited out Netflix completely. I didn’t know whether to scream or cry, so I just sat there. I got up, fooled around in the house, and sat back down to try to finish. I didn’t think I’d need mental and emotional preparation to watch a few hours of television, especially when I knew how it’s going to end. I didn’t finish it until the next day, and simply put, it wore me out. There was a rage and sadness that I couldn’t believe a depiction could pull out of me. While I attribute some of that to extraordinary acting (give Jharrel Jerome ALL of the awards), you cannot run from the reality of this series. Let’s be clear: We actually don’t need another piece of proof that black and brown folks’ existence is disregarded in this country, but this story is necessary.
Delving into these boys’ headspaces and families was critical. Like each of them had been lumped into a nameless crowd of “black thugs” in the case, so were they in the telling of their stories to date. They had been denied justice in the court of law and also in the portrayal of themselves…until now.
If you haven’t watched it yet and haven’t been scared off, please consider it. I know you’ve seen social media posts, including mine that would deter you. I know why. You don’t want to feel the emotions, the pain, the anger, feelings you didn’t know you had inside. You don’t want to think about if your own sons, nephews and loved ones where the Central Park 5 in your city. You know that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred, and once you feel those intense emotions, most of the time, you might not know what to do with them next.
Here’s what you can do when and if you decide to watch: You can cry. You can “cuss.” You can take breaks between episodes. You can stalk the prosecutors’ LinkedIn pages (oops, that’s just me…don’t do that). AND you can talk to your children, learn more about what legal rights we have, become more aware of the complexities of the court system. You can move some of that energy into action ONLY when you’re ready. Or maybe not at all.
Your mental health comes first, but according to the men, the story is now a story of strength, not strife. Choose how you will consume it.