When They See Us: Top Five Educational Moments

I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into when I saw When They See Us flash across my Instagram screen. I just knew produced by Ava DuVernay required my full undivided attention. At first, I thought it was going to be like a documentary, similar to thirteenth. I actually never heard of the Central Park Five case prior to this Netflix four part limited series. So I said to myself, I will look into it, later. Without giving it a second thought.

Then I received a message from my sister who asked me if I saw it, yet? I forgot the name that quickly because I just finished watching The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley on HBO. I was already disgusted with how this slipped through our healthcare system. Thinking about how many diseases could/were/possibly spread due to false lab results; the millions of dollars poured into an untested implausible solution with zero clinical data, undocumented system checks, or anything to justify why this was safe for the general public. I felt like my heart couldn’t take any more disgust at the moment. However, my sister concerned for our boys and her [my] Autistic son [nephew] says , “You seriously need to watch this, but I’ll warn you… it’s really sad.”

That is what prompted me to watch this tragic and horrific series. No doubt that Ava did a fantastic job showcasing each one of the boys and their stories, individually. Embodying their humanity and allowing us to soak in all the emotions. Showing how these boys were innocent bystanders who were tortured into admitting adult fallacies. Carefully displaying the raw history of these boys losing their childhood to a failed system because they are Latino and African Americans who were at the wrong place at the right time. I watched each series hoping this was exaggerated for entertainment. It was difficult to say the least, to sit, watching the stories unpack every minute. This isn’t make-believe. This wasn’t like the trailer and keep scrolling type video. This is real and it could be anyone of our boys on that stand fighting for the world to believe them. Fighting for their freedom.

As my son slept and I watched When They See Us well into 3AM; I kept praying asking God to forgive us. Yep, I watched the entire four part series straight and yes I pray, A LOT. My husband who I asked to sit and watch the series with me said, “I wasn’t planning to watch this because it’s unjust what happened to those boys.” He felt it was just another example of tragic series of events that happens to the black and brown boys in America. Another story of a failed system he desperately tries to avoid at all cost. I said, “We should still watch because it can be a teachable moment.”

That is exactly what this series was, a teachable moment. Please be advised that these are my own interpretations of the provisions I have read and they should not be used as legal advise. If you are in a similar situation or would like more legal details please be advised to seek legal counsel. Here are the top five lessons I learned after watching Netflix series When They See Us:

Interrogation of a Minor Without a Parent Present is Legal

Yep, you read that one correctly my friends. In a case where a Voluntariness of Confession a juvenile has both a right to counsel and a privilege against self-incrimination in juvenile delinquency proceedings. In other words, a juvenile may waive his fifth amendment rights and consent to interrogation without a parent present. There are tons of provisions to this statement and their is a clause of prompt presentment where it states, that a juvenile may not be detained for longer than a reasonable period of time before being brought before a magistrate. The debate here is what would be considered “reasonable period of time?” Who gets to make that call? The parent? The cops? The magistrate? The prosecutor? That is the gray area about law that I think we should all seek legal counsel for.

As a parent without any legal background, I would advise all parents to have this discussion with their children. Especially in our black and brown communities where we are incessant targets. I ask our communities to please armor our children with as much knowledge of their rights as possible. Us parents never want to include these discussions as part of our life lesson plan for our children, however, we can’t never be too prepared for when shit happens. We always tell our children stay out of trouble and stick to yourself, never really armoring them with what to do in cases where trouble finds them. The children in this movie weren’t doing anything wrong and didn’t have a history of causing ruckus. They didn’t go to the park with any malicious intentions and that is usually when things happen, when you least expect it. The policemen/detectives in this case did read the boys their Miranda rights however, in a situation like this where they were completely defenseless and coupled with fear, they stepped right into the Lion’s den.

Sixteen Year Old Juveniles Can Be Charged As Adults

A mandatory transfer to adult status can be permitted for a juvenile who has committed acts after their sixteenth birthday. I know this one is scary. In charges that involve felonies that have an element of using, or threatened use of physical force against another, or involving a substantial risk that physical force would be used against another in committing the offense, or any offenses listed in the united states department of justice clauses, the juvenile can be automatically transferred to adult status in legal proceedings.

I almost fell out my chair when I read this one. I was also baffled when I read that a sixteen year old can voluntarily request to be proceeded against as an adult. I was thinking why would they want to do that? Then I read that it happens quite often. Are you understanding why it’s so important to seek legal counsel asap? I mean it’s like on one paragraph they are considered a child until they are eighteen but in another clause/paragraph after sixteen you can be facing some serious time as an adult, if found guilty. Reason why Korey Wise was sentenced to 15 years and was on going on year 13 of his sentence when he was finally released from prison.

Flash Mobs Can Apply to Any Large Group Of People Causing Ruckus

If you saw the story you would see the terms flash mob and wildin out used interchangeably. In other words, if you are hanging with your boys (because these were boys), in a large crowd of guys at the same location, one gets out of hand, the other gets rowdy, another maybe playing some really loud music, another injurers/intimidates/physically assaults a civilian, and the cops are called, you can be fined for being considered part of a flash mob. Yes, you read that correctly. In this series it didn’t matter that all the boys didn’t know each other. It didn’t matter that they all didn’t go to the park with ill intentions. As far as the policemen knew they were all part of the same neighborhood. A few boys got out of hand and sent a professor home with a fractured skull. OK they got more than out of hand, they didn’t think about their actions and seriously injured a civilian. That really absurd behavior by a few teenagers implicated all the boys were part of a flash mob, was my interpretation. Resulting in all the boys being automatically detained, fined and sent to family court for “delinquent acts” and avoid any criminal proceedings.

However, since black and brown boys carry the labels of “turd” “monkey” “monster” on their backs, as implicated in the series, they were all considered part of the flash mob who also participated in the heinous crime of the jogger. That was the thought process of the policemen in the central park 5 case. So it all comes down to being at the wrong place at the right time (conveniently black and brown, was a plus). Cases like these where people feel intimated by large crowds, calling them flash mobs are quite common. According to the Inquirer, a flash mob was seen in Philly a couple years ago where it also conveniently involved a large crowd of black and brown teenagers.

This can also be seen as a scenario of one bad apple or immature behavior affecting an entire group of teenagers just having fun. So parents, start counting your teenagers friends and tell them to spread out. Too many of us at the same location appears intimidating to some civilians and make sure no one gets out of hand or you may find yourself in family court. Send scouts to keep an eye on their friends and request a full background check before allowing them to chill at the park or any public outing. I am being sarcastic but serious at the same time.

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Innocence is Irrelevant In Most Adjudicated Criminal Cases

In the central park 5 case, innocence was irrelevant. Those kids went in with the stigma of guilty until proven innocent. It is not innocent until proven guilty as the law suggests. They were not prosecuted by unreasonable doubt, due to inconclusive forensic science analysis. The jurors should have seen that all the evidence pointed that the boys were not involved. However, serving as a juror in the past, they never just give you one offense, they give you a varying level of offenses. So basically, you have to go through a roofless round of discussions for each category. It is exhausting. However, there was no blood match, no semen matches, or test conducted on Kevin’s face to match the blood under Millie’s fingernails. It was as the headlines called it after they won the case against the NY city police a miscarriage of legal proceedings. There was however, a particular part of the film that struck my attention.

The part where they were given an opportunity for a plea bargain. At that point they would have needed to plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit and bargain for a lesser sentence. That is when I realized innocence is irrelevant in this country. According to The Atlantic, plea bargains for most people adjudicated in the criminal-justice system today waive the right to a trial, a right to an appeal and plead guilty. A vast majority (approximately 94% at a state level and 97% at a federal level) of felony convictions are now a result of plea bargains.

“ Plea bargains make it easy for prosecutors to convict defendants who may not be guilty, who don’t present a danger to society, or whose “crime” may primarily be a matter of suffering from poverty, mental illness, or addiction. And plea bargains are intrinsically tied up with race, of course, especially in our era of mass incarceration.“

Empathy Is Not A Common Practice

In a world where we struggle so hard to stay afloat, empathy is becoming scarce. The level of shame and accusations experienced by these young boys was heart wrenching. I know that the jogger, Trisha Meilli, almost lost her life to a brutal rapist. I know that it was so hard to see her entire life change after one jog. I would have felt compelled to find her rapist as well. Still out of curiosity, at what point does empathy turn into rage? What point is it justified to allow ego and politics to cloud judgement? I kept wondering in the thin lines of empathy and apathy; what if Korey never went to the station to accompany his friend Yusef Salaam? What if Korey never met the real rapist in prison? What if Korey’s learning disability was uncovered prior to the trial? What if Kevin would’ve spoken against the officer who hit him? What if a different prosecutor was assigned the case or police never reported Reyes confession? No one would have uncovered the truth.

So in the most convoluted empathetic thought process I can conjure; I wonder if this was God’s doing? How many more cases like these would continue to exist? How was it possible that the person we would consider dumb for being emphatic towards his friend (Korey Wise) resulted in him holding the boys down? There are mysteries in life we will never understand. However, our judgement are always skewed. Our empathy is conditional and maybe this was just another way of shedding light on that fact.

Showing us how quickly we judge and disregard one another. How we lack communication and active listening skills due to learned behaviors and clouded perceptions. How we allow our emotions to get the best of us. The legal system was designed to protect us. However, I think we never bothered to ask, protect us from who?

As a parent I feel the anguish these parents faced during those trying times. I feel irresponsible because I didn’t know of this case or all these proceedings prior to seeing this series. I think if we can set our emotions aside, practice self-care while watching, we will see this was created to educate us on both our judicial system and our humanity. This is an outcry for us to become more aware and vigilant of the world around us. I hope I have at least done that through this article.

If you read this in it’s entirety, congratulations! I know this was a lot to unpack. I am a mother of two boys and felt it was necessary to put this out in the world for other parents or parents-to-be to read. Please let me know in the comments what you gained/learned from this article. Join the party and let’s converse as I share my eye opening reads/thoughts/information. Also, go watch the series and see what thoughts you gather. Until the next one my friends, take good care of yourselves.