WHITE PROSPERITY AND THE PERSECUTION OF BLACK BODIES
June 10, 2019
The last week has been filled with praise for Ava Duvernay’s new Netflix series, When They See Us, chronicling the false prosecution of the Central Park Five. Five individuals who had many years of their lives stolen after being railroaded by NYPD, a white prosecutor named Linda Fairstein and your current President of the United States Donald Trump — who infamously took out an add asking for the death penalty of these five Black kids (before they’d even been falsely prosecuted). While these Black kids had their lives changed forever, these white folks continued to live well off, a history we know all too well.
Although I haven’t seen When They See Us (for reasons to do with protecting my mental health), like many others in our community, I know the story very well. Among the great things about Duvernay’s mini-series, is that it brought many little-known aspects to light — and has, in fact, finally brought some accountability against prosecutor Fairstein who carries much of the blame for the unjust prosecution of the Central Park Five.
Following the convictions, Linda continued to live a very comfortable life. After retiring from prosecuting, she went on to begin writing books. Some of them for children… Fairstein has become a very wealthy, well-known author, and even Glamour Magazine’s Woman of the Year in 1993. A typical affluent white woman who even after the overturning of the Central Park Five’s convictions, continued to not be held accountable.
Upon the release of When They See Us, social media made sure that this did not last for one day longer. Her Twitter was immediately flooded with people @ her for her actions in the ruining of not only the lives of five kids, but their families, and the Black community that had been crucified at the hands of an anti-Black justice system. Since the series debut, Fairstein has resigned from the board of Vassar College, several organizations have cut ties with her, including her publisher, Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House. She was also stripped of her Glamour Magazine Woman of the Year Award. As unfortunate as it is, there is some justice but not nearly enough. Even sadder is that, despite all of this, she will continue to be a wealthy white woman who will do just fine.
After all, we can’t forget Donald J Trump, whose racism runs nearly 50 years long and who has in essence risen to become one of powerful men in the world. Trump has never apologized for the racism he carried out with his housing policies in the 1970’s; never apologized for the racist ad, he took out against the Central Park Five, contributing to their vilification in the media and white society; never apologized for the birther movement, that called into question the citizenship of Barack Obama, our nation’s first Black President. Trump has rested on the persecution of Black bodies while continuing to rise in power.
Let’s connect some more dots, because this is the stock that America runs on. Black children attend schools named after people who enslaved their ancestors. White icons who we are forced to learn about in the history books have pasts littered with racist and anti-Black politics. People who made the suffering of Black people their business are now immortalized on coins, mountains, and monuments throughout the country.
And it’s not only with the people that become major white historical figures. In real life, we deal and interact with people who continue to do well and never be held accountable for their actions following the harm they have caused Black people. Just this week, we are also dealing with the trial of NYPD Officer Pantaleo, who infamously killed Eric Garner while using an illegal chokehold. Garner, who was being harassed for doing nothing more than selling loose cigarettes on the street, is now remembered for his dying words, “I can’t breathe”.
Pantaleo has never been charged for Garner’s death, something we often see from many officers involved in the deaths of unarmed Black people. Over the past five years, just in salary earnings he has made nearly half a million dollars. Did I mention that he didn’t lose his job? So yes, the people whose taxes pay his salary, the people he is supposed to protect and serve, the community he has harmed, is still being forced to be policed by him, while he benefits off another Black body lost.
I even recall that the woman who got Emmett Till killed, admitted after nearly 60 years, that she too had lied. Never was she held accountable. It is rare that white people who have made it their mission to harm Black people with their power, influence, money, words, or physical violence are held accountable. Doesn’t mean we will ever stop fighting to right the wrongs, but our community is hardened and tired.
I hope Linda Fairstein loses everything. I hope Donald J Trump is impeached and imprisoned. I hope officer Pantaleo is convicted and loses his job. But all I have is hope, as history keeps telling us that these things aren’t very likely. But all we can do is what Ava has done, and so many community activists continue to do: Call truth to power, and continuing fighting. No one has the privilege to continue to harm us for profit and gain.