Saturday, June 15, 2019

Faulty Pursuits of Justice

Until now, I’ve chosen to leave the reporting on New York prosecutor-turned-author Linda Fairstein’s recent downfall to other media outlets. I don’t have unique knowledge of the story or any original angle from which to approach it. And I see no reason to comment on Fairstein’s situation simply for the sake of reading my opinions in print. (I already wrote, late last year, about the Mystery Writers of America’s decision to withdraw her nomination as one of its Grand Masters.)

However, I think it’s worth pointing readers of this page to a piece in yesterday’s Washington Post, penned by critic and author Sarah Weinman (The Real Lolita), that offers some useful perspective on Fairstein’s plight and public service career. It begins:
The month of June has not been kind to Linda Fairstein, the former head of the sex-crimes division of the Manhattan district attorney’s office. Since Ava DuVernay’s limited Netflix series “When They See Us” debuted on May 31, the prosecutor-turned-bestselling crime writer has been under fire for her role in shaping the prosecution of the group of wrongfully convicted teens who became known as the Central Park Five. (I know Fairstein slightly through the world of crime writing.) Dutton, her longtime book publisher, and ICM Partners, her longtime agency, both dropped her, and social media campaigns spurred her to resign from the boards of the victims’ resource group Safe Horizon and Vassar College.

Fairstein’s fall is the result of a long-overdue public reckoning with New York’s response to the 1989 rape and attempted murder of Trisha Meili, the crime for which the Five were wrongly imprisoned. In measuring the cost of that case, it isn’t simply that Fairstein played a role in pursuing the wrong suspects. It’s that, as I wrote earlier this month, other women were assaulted, raped, and in one instance, murdered by Matias Reyes, the man solely responsible for the attack on Meili. The New York Police Department and the prosecutor’s office failed these women, some of whom were attacked after Meili, because they believed, incorrectly, that Meili was just one victim of a crime wave taking place in Central Park that night.

Our reckoning also needs to go beyond the Central Park jogger case. Fairstein joined an unjust system in the 1970s and, at first, she helped revolutionize certain aspects of that system. But, as our ideas about the criminal-justice system evolved, hers did not. Neither the excoriating op-ed Fairstein wrote in her own defense, nor Felicity Huffman’s villainous portrayal of her in “When They See Us” captures the full arc of what happened to Fairstein—and why it matters for the rest of us.
Again, you’ll find Weinman’s whole piece here.

READ MORE: “Linda Fairstein, Former 'Central Park 5' Prosecutor, Dropped By Her Publisher,” by Colin Dwyer (NPR); “The Slippery Moral Calculus of Linda Fairstein,” by Monica Hesse (The Washington Post); “Trump Still Refuses to Admit He Was Wrong About the Central Park 5,” by Aaron Rupar (Vox).

1 comment:

Bill Selnes said...

I want to pass on the perspective of a defence counsel who knows well New York City's criminal justice system -