‘When They See Us’

A powerful and distressing four part miniseries, When They See Us is the story of the Central Park Five and an almost unbelievable miscarriage of justice.

19 April 1989 a woman is brutally raped and left for dead in the northern part of Manhattan’s Central Park. Arrested in the park for different infringements, five African-American boys, four of whom are 15 or under, discover the following morning they are the main suspects for the attack on the white woman. In spite of evidence that at best is circumstantial, the five are convicted in the courts. Convicted murderer and serial rapist Matias Reyes confessed to the crime in 2002.

Deprived of legal representation or parental presence, harangued for 40+ hours without food or sleep, coached into wordy confessions, the boys are bullied, threatened, beaten and coerced. The NYPD want to close the case and these boys will do. It’s a harrowing first episode from director Ava DuVernay (Selma, 13th) with scenes redolent of 1960s Mississippi or Alabama.

The intensity is lightened as we experience the trial and parole of the four younger accused but the final (considerably longer) episode throws you back into the mire as it primarily focuses on Korey Wise (an extraordinary Jharrel Jerome who plays him as both teenager and adult). At 16, he spends all his time in an adult prison – and sex offenders are targetted by the other inmates. He maintains his innocence throughout – even when acknowledging guilt could earn him parole.

But it’s not just about the five. Their families also travel on the journey. Antron McCray (Caleel Harris) sees his parents separate. Raymond Santana (Marquis Rodriguez), just 14 when arrested, is released after seven years to find his father remarried to a woman who believes him guilty. Wise’s mother finds God (as does 15 year-old Yusuf Salaam – Ethan Herisse).

When They See Us is devastating and deeply moving television as we witness the worst excesses of institutionalised racism and brutality – the police, the courts, the prisons – the whole system.

Rating: 84%

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