It took several days to prepare myself to watch Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us. Her four part miniseries tells the story of injustice from the eyes of the wrongfully convicted men known as The Central Park Five.
As I watched,* I took breaks to process, to have a moment, to cry—to breathe. By the end of Part 4, I sobbed.
I did not sleep the entire night because I was sitting with the weight of what happened to these men. Days after, I can say it is a film that did something to me. What did it do? I am still feeling and thinking my way through the did. I do not know the last time I watched a film/miniseries that had this kind of effect on me.
This is a film that might do something to you, too. It might shake you up—that’s a good thing for a lot of us. How many of us find ways to numb ourselves of even our own lives? With the viral videos of police brutality and White people calling the police on Black people, I have been concerned about how people across race are becoming more desensitized to pain and trauma that many Black people experience in this country.
When They See Us might help some of us to remember that behind these news and social media stories are real lives. It might prompt others to re-examine political choices and cultural perspectives.
As someone who was falsely accused of a crime I did not commit because of my race, I grieve for these men. My experience of how the situation was handled “off the books” was/is an anomaly for a Black girl in Mississippi or the entire country.
Although I did not experience even one night in jail, the trauma I suffered from the entire ordeal took years to heal. And life does not stop or take it easy on a Black person because of trauma. Healing for many of us is a fight for our lives.
Therefore, I cannot even start to imagine the depth of pain and trauma that these men carry.
The Exonerated Five represent Black children who are preyed upon to feed the school to prison pipeline.
The Innocent Five can be any Black child who has experienced that “all children are created equally” excludes them.
In the United States of America, these statements mean nothing to people who have been socially conditioned to have little empathy for Black people–African-American people.
When They See Us is a moment of reckoning. In a visceral display of the shattering of young lives, the film details how people can be complicit in horrific systems and inequitable institutions that work to break Black people.
That is, highly educated people and professionals, “good” people that you and I know as family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues, can make careers off of making Black people the problem. After all, mass incarceration has become another form of slavery.
If you care about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then the experiences of The Innocent Five are causes for more of us to increase our scrutiny of the criminal justice system and call for greater accountability.
If you have not watched When They See Us, I think we owe it to five individuals who were robbed of their youth and much of their lives.
We owe it for humanity’s sake to bear witness to a story of the United States of America.
We owe it to ourselves to be people who care for what happens to others.
We owe it as an apology for these five innocent men who have yet to receive one.
Watch it for:
And see them.
Have you watched When They See Us? How has it impacted you? What are your thoughts?
*Week 49 of Quitting the Bible