© 2024 | Jefferson Public Radio
Southern Oregon University
1250 Siskiyou Blvd.
Ashland, OR 97520
541.552.6301 | 800.782.6191
Listen | Discover | Engage a service of Southern Oregon University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Opinion: Ex-Prosecutor Faces Harsh Criticism After 'Central Park 5' Netflix Series

Author and former prosecutor Linda Fairstein is facing backlash and calls to boycott her books after the portrayal of her in a new Netflix series about the Central Park Five.
Stephen Lovekin
Getty Images
Author and former prosecutor Linda Fairstein is facing backlash and calls to boycott her books after the portrayal of her in a new Netflix series about the Central Park Five.

Linda Fairstein won fame prosecuting criminals and then wrote crime fiction. Did she allow her gift for fiction to guide her powers as a prosecutor?

For 25 years, Linda Fairstein led sex crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, which inspired Law and Order: SVU. She's written bestselling crime novels, like Blood Oath and Death Dance,about a hard-nosed, tenderhearted Assistant DA Alexandra Cooper who eats in a lot of New York's classiest Italian restaurants on a public servant's salary.

Now there's a mystery.

There are now calls to boycott Linda Fairstein's books. She has resigned from several foundation boards. And on Friday, her publisher dropped her.

Ava DuVernay's Netflix series, When They See Us, has premiered. It's about Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray and Yusef Salaam; five black and Latino teenagers who were wrongly convicted of a brutal rape and beating of a woman in Central Park in 1989 when Linda Fairstein ran the sex crimes unit.

The young men said their confessions were coerced. DNA evidence always pointed to another perpetrator, not the teens, who became known as the Central Park Five.

An imprisoned rapist named Matias Reyes confessed in 2002 to being the actual Central Park criminal. But, the young men spent a collective 40 years in prison before their convictions were voided while Matias Reyes went on to assault and rape more women and murder one — who was pregnant at the time.

Ava DuVernay's series shows Linda Fairstein refusing to follow other leads, and saying lines like, "Every young black male who was in the park last night is a suspect."

The real Linda Fairstein calls the portrayal of her "grossly and maliciously inaccurate" in resignation letters and says case files and public records will confirm she acted responsibly.

DuVernay says Fairstein refused to meet unless she could approve the scripts of the series. Linda Fairstein's attorney says that is not true.

Daniel R. Alonso, who served with Fairstein at the district attorney's office, said wrongful conviction is "a terrible, terrible thing," but he reminds people how Linda Fairstein has dauntlessly prosecuted rapists and worked to change laws to help the victims of sexual crimes.

He told The New York Times, "I think it's terrible to 'cancel' someone's entire career over one matter."

Prosecutors have demanding, complicated, stressful jobs. But if that "one matter" was your life, what would you think?

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: June 7, 2019 at 9:00 PM PDT
In the audio of this story, in addition to a previous Web version, we incorrectly say Linda Fairstein was a founder of the sex crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. She was actually named chief of the unit two years after it was created, a position she held for 25 years.
Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.