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OpinionColumnistsLeonard Levitt

The campaign to demonize Linda Fairstein

The Netflix miniseries on the Central Park Five case portrays her as a racist.

Returning to the trial of the Central Park

Returning to the trial of the Central Park Five 30 years later, the cast of Ava DuVernay's "When They See Us" says the case feels more timely than ever. Photo Credit: Netflix/Atsushi Nishijima

Unrepentant as she is, what is happening to Linda Fairstein is disgraceful. To quote Clarence Thomas during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing, this is “a high-tech lynching.”

Fairstein supervised the prosecution of what is now known as the Central Park Five case — the five black and Hispanic teens falsely accused of raping a white jogger in Central Park in 1989. After a serial rapist admitted the crime, saying he acted alone and whose DNA matched that found at the scene, the teens’ wrongful convictions were vacated. They are now portrayed as victims of a racist criminal justice system and were awarded $41 million in a settlement with NYC.

The recent Netflix miniseries “When They See Us,” by director Ava DuVernay, portrays Fairstein as a racist. Fairstein, who has become a pariah and her reputation all but destroyed, wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that the four-episode docudrama is “so full of distortions and falsehoods as to be an outright fabrication.”

Still, she was forced to resign from the boards of various institutions, including her alma mater, Vassar College. After she left the DA’s office some 15 years ago, she became a best-selling crime writer, and her publisher has dropped her. The publisher’s decision followed a petition signed by more than 125,000 people demanding that it cut its ties to her.

The campaign against her involves the Twitter hashtag #CancelLindaFairstein. Its postings include:

  • “How many stories did @LindaFairstein make up to further her career? How many times did she say the evidence doesn’t match my version so let’s change it?”
  • “Linda Fairstein manipulated the system by tampering with evidence and coerced five innocent boys into making false statements.”
  • “It’s the same callousness slave traders, owners, and .  .  . such displayed. Just an updated version.”

Is this where we are headed? Decisions influenced by mob rule?

And why are people afraid to publicly defend Fairstein, who for 25 years headed the DA’s Sex Crimes Unit, the first of its kind in the country? Where are the feminists? Where is the #MeToo crowd, which is aware of Fairstein’s pioneering efforts in her sex-crime investigations?

We seem to be going through a period of racial reckoning. But do Fairstein’s pursuers actually think they can help undo, or repay, 300 years of past injuries to blacks by demonizing her?

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