How They May Still See Us

Viharachard Dorval/Contributing Writer

I saw the greatest horror story ever made today. Equipped with all the makings for a great scary movie, it was loaded with suspense, lighting and even a couple monsters.

But the most terrifying thing about this program was that it actually happened and, in many ways, could still happen. 

I was familiar with Ava DuVernay’s new Netflix series “When They See Us” from previous research and the outrage spread across in waves on black Twitter. None of this could have prepared me for the roller coaster ride of emotions I endured for the next six hours. 

The scene that really angered me was when former New York City prosecutor Linda Fairstein, along with the NYPD, concocted a story with little to no evidence, no DNA and no merit to wrongfully convict five young boys of a crime they didn’t commit.

I looked over at my cousin, the youngest male relative in my family. He read an article aloud to me on how Donald Trump refused to apologize for his harsh comments he made in 1989 about the five young men we were watching on our T.V. screen. 

But just like director DuVernay, I was not at all interested in Trump. I was much more concerned about the look of indifference on my young, impressionable cousin’s face.

It was the same look he had when he and I had been pulled over about a month ago. We were heading towards the exit to Aventura mall when we spotted them. Well, when he spotted them.

As the siren wailed, we pulled into the shoulder and waited. When asked for his driver’s license, my cousin complied. He answered all their questions as politely as possible, but he was still asked to step out of the vehicle. I froze, not knowing what to and all while feeling incredibly useless. I thought about all the stories I’d seen on the news of unarmed black people losing their lives to police brutality. I thought about all the “routine” traffic stops that turned into trending hashtags on Twitter.

After what felt like an eternity, my cousin came back to the car and, without saying a word, pulled off. He turned the music back up and asked me what I wanted to eat. I, on the other hand, had worked up a cold sweat and could still hear my heartbeat. I asked him what had happened and why he was asked to step out of the vehicle. He simply shrugged, telling me it happens all the time and how lucky we were that the officer hadn’t called for backup. 

I was shocked and asked him to tell me more. Each story was worse than the other. From having his vehicle searched to lying face down on the road, he recounted each instance with little to no expression on his face. 

I couldn’t shake the feeling of anger and powerlessness that night. My cousin hadn’t broken any rules; he was the safest, most responsible young man I’d ever known. But the truth is, whether he complied or disobeyed, he knew deep inside it didn’t matter. To them, he didn’t matter. To him and many other black people living in America, the justice system seems designed to work against rather than for them.

Before the Central Park Five even stood trial, their fate was left in the hands of people who already saw them as guilty. With little to no physical evidence other than coerced confession tapes, prosecutors were able to paint these boys as monsters.

And why? Because people of color are guilty until proven guilty, and we continue to see it time and time again. 

Years after the Central Park Five case came the Rodney King case, where an unarmed black man was severely beaten by police officers who were later acquitted of all crimes. A video recording showed King being struck 50 times with over 20 police officers present. The accused officers were acquitted of all charges despite hard evidence and testimonies. 

The level of anxiety I have reading the stories and seeing photos of black youth at the mercy of law enforcement makes me cringe. No one would argue that criminals should have to pay for the crimes that they have committed, and I completely agree. 

However, when the crime in question is heightened by the color of your skin, things tend to intensify. Black people, who only make up 13% of the population represent almost half of innocent defendants wrongfully convicted of crimes since 1989, according to a research study done by the National Registry of Exonerations.

Action has taken place to prevent these sorts of crimes from happening again. Civil rights groups like Black Lives Matter, a global organization whose mission is to protect people of color from violence inflicted by the state, have pushed laws that protect citizens from government abuses. Since 2013, the development of this group has helped change the narrative of dangerous black youth to endangered black youth. 

Since then, we have continued to see the names and hear the stories of the inhuman treatment of minorities across the states. The minds of the oppressors in power have not changed, but what has changed is the level of awareness and support. 

The Central Park Five is not the first and will unfortunately not be the last to experience this kind of injustice. But it’s vital that this page in American history isn’t just a cool Netflix series, but a lesson on the importance of knowledge, community, and what happens when the people who still see us as monsters hold all the cards.


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.

Featured photo by Blogtrepreneur on Wikicommons.

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