“When They See Us” has painted the Central Park Five case in a new light, and one person portrayed in the Netflix miniseries is now facing backlash for her role in putting Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise behind bars.
The fury directed at Linda Fairstein, who was the head of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office sex crimes unit during the investigation, hit a fever pitch Tuesday, leading to her resignation from the boards of three nonprofits as well as the Vassar College board of trustees.
“After careful consideration, Linda Fairstein has made the difficult decision to resign from the Safe Horizon board of directors. We thank her for her decades of pioneering work on behalf of victims of sexual assault and abuse,” The New York City-based nonprofit said in a statement Tuesday. “For more than 40 years, Safe Horizon’s top priority has been empowering victims and survivors. We believe every victim deserves access to safety and support, and will continue working toward that reality.”
She also reportedly resigned from the boards of God’s Love We Deliver and the Joyful Heart Foundation.
Fairstein told the chair of the board at Vassar College that she felt her continued presence would be harmful for the university, according to a letter posted by president Elizabeth H. Bradley.
“The events of the last few days have underscored how the history of racial and ethnic tensions in this country continue to deeply influence us today, and in ways that change over time,” Bradley wrote in a letter published online. “As I have received many emails and phone calls from people who have expressed a broad range of views on this issue, I am reminded of William Faulkner’s quote: ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’ “
The decision was announced after a Change.org petition urging her removal from the Vassar College board of trustees garnered over 13,000 signatures. Calls for retribution against Fairstein have mounted since the four-part series debuted on Friday. At least a dozen other petitions have been started on Change.org, with demands ranging from boycotting her books to seeking criminal prosecution.
Fairstein, a bestselling author who splits her time between Manhattan and Martha’s Vineyard, spent more than 20 years at the helm of the Manhattan district attorney’s sex crimes unit. She has maintained her belief that Wise, Salaam, Richardson, McCray and Santana were properly charged in the brutal attack and rape of jogger Trisha Meili in 1989 – even after they were exonerated in 2002.
But the Central Park Five case has become a stain on her career, particularly in light of how she is portrayed in Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us.”
Many who watched the series over the weekend took to social media to express outrage and demand justice for the Central Park Five. Amid a flurry of tweets, Fairstein either deleted or suspended her Twitter account. Her personal Facebook profile has been set to private and her professional page is no longer active.
Another Change.org petition calls on Amazon and other retailers to stop selling her books has over 88,000 signatures.
“Linda Fairstein led a witch hunt against five teenage boys. Even though the physical evidence didn’t support her theory she raged on with one goal in mind and that was to get a conviction at any expense, even the lives of teenage boys,” wrote Ryan Swink, who started the petition.
Multiple requests for comment from Fairstein were not returned, but she reportedly told The New York Post that she felt forced to step down from the boards because of the “mob-mentality reaction” sparked by “When They See Us.”
“It’s so foolish of the bullies to punish the charities. Totally pig-headed and stupid,” she said.