When They See Us: Ripping the Bandaid off for Fresh Air

Since I caught wind that Ava DuVernay was creating a mini series about the “Central Park 5,” I was overcome with emotion. I was excited, because although there was previous documentaries and coverage of this notable case, it just feels different when it’s coming form “one of us.” I was thrilled, because not only did I believe Ava would do right by the five men whose childhoods were cut short because of this, but I felt she would dig deep and research and share things that were previously unknown.

I can vaguely remember hearing about the case when I was in middle school. I did very minor research; I asked family and friends of my family about what happened. Again, in high school, I believe that was when Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana Jr., Korey Wise and Antron McCray convictions were vacated and then they sued and were award millions. The latter was when I really looked into the case and it broke my heart. I was there age and couldn’t imagine, being just a kid and charged for such serious crimes that I did not commit or have knowledge of. It was honestly something I pushed far back in my mind and focused on the present for them.

So when When They See Us was set to debut, I literally got cold feet. In the wake of Nipsey’s death and the uprooted feelings of Trayvon Martin and similar cases, I felt I couldn’t do it. It literally pained me, but at the same time it’s an Ava DuVernay production. I support all she does and a small part of me felt like this would bring closure.

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I watched When They See Us and my God… I cried every episode. Like Viola Davis ugly cry, snotty-nose and all. The stories coming full circle that I previously researched. I felt this was the most accurate account of what occurred due to the five men’s perspectives being told. The symbolism, the precision for a piece that was created in 66 days… Speechless. Never am I ever disappointed by Ava’s works. It it something that needed to be created, especially in today’s climate where African American men and women are being accused and killed without reason and justice never on their side. It brings attention to what is still going on today and shows how broken our criminal justice system is.

It’s still hard to even put into words besides it being a must see. I am going to watch the 4-part series again in hopes to get more information and perspective from it and less tears. I cried during the credits. As soon as I heard the beat for the final song, I froze. Nipsey’s Picture Me Rollin closed out the 4 episode series over a picture montage. Two months since his death and I hadn’t fully listened to anything by him. I cried more to the point of a migraine. I sat still and once the song ended, relief washed over me. This was definitely a hard watch, but this is our reality. This is happening today. I realized that I’d been holding on to pain from these events and more that happen in communities of color. Knowing that these men, the Exonerated Five, are living full lives and even working to give back gave me peace.

Thank you Ava.

– Viola Constance


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