On May 31st, 2019, Ava Duvernay’s limited series, ‘When They See Us,’ began streaming on Netflix. The names Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, and Kevin Richardson will forever be remembered for the injustices they endured. This series unfolds the real story of a 16-year-old boy named Korey Wise while unveiling the disturbing truths of the justice system. Duvernay humanizes Wise and takes this opportunity to tell America his truth.
In April of 1989, police were collecting suspects for the brutal assault and rape of the 28-year-old female jogger, Patricia Meili. One of the suspects was Yusef Salaam, who was with Wise when the police approached him. As Salaam was being taken in for questioning, Wise decided to come along for moral support. However, this kind gesture was a mistake that he would come to regret. In the series, this is evident as soon as the police brought Wise into the interrogation room as well.
Due to the fact that Wise was 16 years old, it was legal for the police to interrogate him without parental or guardian supervision. Wise struggled with hearing issues and a learning disability, making him more vulnerable to police coercion, allowing him to give into the police’s aggressive questioning. Linda Fairstein, head of the Manhattan D.A’s sex crimes unit, manipulated Wise into confessing to a crime he didn’t commit, and not originally associated with. Fairstein coerced him into submitting a written and taped confession, which did not even match the details of the crime whatsoever.
Although there was a lack of evidence, all five boys were deemed to be guilty of various degrees of rape and assault. The four younger teens were sentenced to five to ten years in a youth correctional facility. Meanwhile, Wise was sentenced to 15 years in adult facilities, such as Rikers Island. There, just a young teen, Wise experienced extreme violence and traumatizing abuse. He also spent long periods of time in solitary confinement in order to avoid interactions with other inmates. Ava Duvernay said, “One of the things that really struck me was when Korey said to me, ‘There is no central park five. It was four plus one.’ And no one has told that story, I think it’s important for people to understand the depths of what it means to be incarcerated as adults in this country.”
Wise crossed paths with Matias Reyes in prison, who was the actual perpetrator of the central park jogger rape. Reyes confessed to the crime by explaining what he did in detail, that of which matched those of the actual crime as did his DNA. By this time, Wise had spent 12 years in prison. After Wise was finally released in 2002, three of the men, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, and Raymond Santana filed a lawsuit against New York on account of malicious prosecution, racial discrimination, and emotional distress. After a decade, New York finally settled the lawsuit for 41 million. As the man who received the worst of it, Wise got the biggest portion of the money-12.2 million. Wise said, “You won’t forget what you lost. No money could bring back the life that was missed or the time that was taken away.”
Despite the loss of his childhood, opportunities, and time, Korey Wise is an optimistic 46-year-old who always has a positive attitude and has become a criminal justice activist. Jharrel Jerome, the actor who portrays Wise in ‘When They See Us,’ was very nervous to meet him because he was so captivated by his story and had never met anyone like him before. Jerome said, “The second I met him, he took his chain off and put it around my neck, and he said, ‘you’re Korey Wise now.’ That put everything in perspective for me about what kind of man he is. It’s all strength, it’s all power. He’s all bright.”