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Three decades after helping send five innocent teenagers to prison, former prosecutor Linda Fairstein is facing a new round of backlash and criticism thanks to the Netflix series When They See Us, which tells the story of Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise. The series, by filmmaker Ava DuVernay, reexamines the accusations, false confessions, and aftermath of the case against the boys, who were teenagers when they were accused of raping a jogger, and became known in the media as the Central Park Five.
Fairstein, who is played by Felicity Huffman, is portrayed in the show as immediately convinced of the boys’ guilt, despite any physical evidence linking them to the scene and descriptions in their confessions that didn’t match the crime scene. After Matais Reyes, a serial rapist, confessed to the attack in 2002, and DNA confirmed his account, the men were exonerated and Fairstein’s role in the investigations faced some criticism. But she was able to pursue a successful career as a novelist and sit on nonprofit boards.
Now, she has stepped down from many of those roles, including her seat on the board at Safe Horizon, a nonprofit supporting victims of domestic violence, Esquire has confirmed.
“I do not want to become a lightning rod to inflict damage on this organization, because of those now attacking my record of fighting for social justice for more than 45 years,” Fairstein told the New York Post. She added that she was “sorry that the staff [of Safe Horizon], through their CEO Ariel Zwang, declined to meet with me to learn the truths behind the inflammatory and false narrative.”
She sent similar letters stepping down from roles on the boards of God’s Love We Deliver, the Joyful Heart Foundation, and her alma mater, Vassar College, she told The Post.
“I am told that Ms. Fairstein felt that, given the recent widespread debate over her role in the Central Park case, she believed that her continuing as a board member would be harmful to Vassar,” Elizabeth H. Bradley, the president of Vassar College, confirmed in a statement.
When When They See Us premiered over the weekend, #CancelLindaFairstein began trending on Twitter and a change.org petition called for publishers and booksellers to stop supporting the prosecutor-turned-novelist. Salaam and Santana have supported the boycott. “The truth comes out,” Santana told TMZ about the backlash against Fairstein. “Even if it’s 30 years later, she has to pay for her crime.”
Before stepping down from her various roles on boards, Fairstein criticized the Netflix show, and particularly filmmaker DuVernay.
“It’s a basket of lies,” she told The Daily Beast. She called the show “a totally and completely untrue picture of events and my participation,” including “putting words in my mouth that I never said in Oliver Stone fashion.”
DuVernay earlier told The Daily Beast that she’d reached out to Fairstein while making the series, but that Fairstein had demanded script approval. Fairstein, however, said her lawyer sent the filmmaker a letter detailing the public record of the case but that she never got a response. She accused DuVernay of orchestrating the public campaign against her.
“She’s behind it,” Fairstein told The Daily Beast. “Her lies are behind it all.”
Netflix didn’t respond to a request to comment. Fairstein has not responded to multiple requests for comment.