‘when they see us’ brought more justice than the justice system

June 13, 2019
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It appears that things are shifting for the people responsible for the unjust imprisonment of The Exonerated Five. It took over three decades, but it feels like we are witnessing a rare public moment of accountability.

Since the release of Ava DuVernay’s WHEN THEY SEE US, Linda Fairstein and Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Ledere have both been forced resign from part-time gigs—Ledere was a professor at Columbia University—and have been dropped by their respective publishers. If I believed in karma, I’d call it karma. But it’s still nothing compared to what The Exonerated Five had to withstand by being wrongfully imprisoned.

It’s interesting to think that even in this moment, the prosecutors are experiencing a type of accountability that Black people can never experience. It’s society and the community that are deciding the social destiny of these prosecutors, not the state. It’s the culture correcting itself—not a justice system that too often places a person in the toxic environment of jail, or if the person is wealthy, places a debt upon them through fines or restitution that affects them economically, but not spiritually.

This is a type of justice that even in innocence, The Exonerated Five couldn’t attain. I’m glad it is happening, but it is too late. And that seems to be the larger pattern of accountability in these modern times where we’re able to correct the past in some symbolic ways, but we’re not able to heal the pain that matters the most: the pain of the victims.

The injustice The Exonerated Five experienced can’t be corrected with money or someone being fired, but that doesn’t mean it don’t feel damn good in the meantime.