Real Talk | “When They See Us”

Real Talk

SHERRY CANNON

Ava DuVernay’s four-part series on the Central Park Five, “When They See Us” is currently airing on Netflix. You have to have been under a rock to not have seen the film or watched commentary about it.

My daughter, niece and I watched the entire series in one sitting. I admit it was tough to get through. However, I encourage everyone to please watch it no matter how hard it is to get through. As hard as it is to watch, it is even more necessary that we do.

The fact that these five boys were even charged with this crime is inconceivable. The fact that the media was not curious enough to ask why there was no physical evidence is highly troubling. The fact that a jury of 12 people could listen to a case with no evidence and convict these 13- to 16-year-old boys is heartbreaking. To see police officers and prosecutors deliberately manufacture a case against five Black and Latino boys through bullying, lying, coercion, sleep deprivation, and even physical assault was reprehensible.

The boys were exonerated with the help of the Innocence Project, after serving from 6 to 13 years in prison, after the real rapist confessed to the crime in 2001. That person was never charged because the statute of limitations had passed. The City of New York under Mayor Michael Bloomberg refused to settle the lawsuit with the men during his 12-year term as mayor. It wasn’t until Mayor Bill DeBlasio took office were the men awarded a $41-million settlement in 2014, and another $3.9 million in 2016 from the state of New York.

As a woman, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother of Black children, this movie broke my heart and made me feel helpless. The people who are here to serve and protect literally created a narrative and then gathered up five Black boys and set them up to fit their narrative. They were criminalized by law enforcement and further victimized by the media.

Our blackness is criminalized, and especially our Black men. Statistics show that 1 in 3 Black boys born in 2001, compared to 1 in 17 white boys will likely go to prison, and 1 in 18 Black girls versus 1 in 111 white girls will likely go to prison.

During my grandson’s senior year of college, he and a friend decided to drive across country from Illinois to California. I literally had him check in as he drove through the different states. My mind was on Michael Brown as he drove through Missouri and Sandra Bland as he drove through Texas. I was making sure they were not speeding or too tired and not stopping in small towns. I could not forget Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis or Freddie Gray, all young Black men, whose day started with them doing ordinary things and they all ended up dead because of a perception that some white person had about them.

Can you not see our humanity? Do you see our fear and our pain? Do you see our struggles with never being able to be completely unguarded? Feeling like we can’t make a mistake, because it not only brings judgment on us individually, but as a race collectively. Always trying to be measured, not too hot or too cold.

The question remains, when you see us, what do you see?

Sherry Cannon



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