Following Netflix’s release of director Ava DuVernay’s incredibly powerful four-part series When They See Us, the calls to #cancelLindaFairstein have been swift and strong. Due to mounting public pressure and criticism, Fairstein has announced her resignation from the boards of several organizations that she has been involved with over the years, which include several non-profit organizations and her role on the Board of Trustees at Vassar College.
Fairstein, working as a prosecutor for the case of the Central Park Jogger, played a key part in wrongfully convicting the group of black and brown teens that made up the Central Park Five. Despite the complete and total exoneration of all five boys-turned-men — Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Korey Wise, and Antron McCray — Fairstein is one of many figures involved in the case who has continued to defend the way that five innocent young men were treated by her team. (The City of New York settled with the Central Park Five over their wrongful convictions several years ago, but has also stuck by its own conviction that there was no wrongdoing on the part of any of its prosecutors or detectives.)
The Washington Post cited Fairstein’s recent insistence that the five were tried fairly, that their damning confessions were not a result of coercion, despite the fact that we now have a better understanding of the conditions in which these confessions were given. Fairstein has also criticized the way that DuVernay’s When They See Us portrays her part in the story of the Central Park Five, describing it as inaccurate.
In large part, it is because of Fairstein’s refusal or perhaps her inability to accept any responsibility for the wrongful conviction of the Central Park Five that the public is expressing their collective outrage through online petitions and furious tweets. Fairstein has characterized this as a sort of mob-mentality reaction. Nonetheless, she has resigned from her roles at non-profits Safe Horizon, God’s Love We Deliver, and Joyful Heart Foundation, citing interference that would compromise the missions of these worthy organizations. “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,” she wrote in a letter to Safe Horizon, an organization that works with victims of domestic violence.
Elizabeth H. Bradley, President of Vassar College, announced in a letter that Fairstein would be resigning from the Board of Trustees after her students organized a petition to oust Fairstein from its ranks. “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,” wrote Bradley. “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.’”