When They See Us: Lessons I Learned From 5 Heroic Men

If you haven’t watched it by now, you’ve more than likely seen a promotion about it. The Netflix documentary series ‘When They see Us’ has everyone raving. The jaw-dropping, captivating, and informational series will make you want to fight for justice. I found myself crying my eyes out, yelling at the television and compelled as I watched the show in the living room of my home. I wanted to comfort each young man as they were tormented and forced to confess to something they didn’t do by the police and investigators. The hope it must have required to serve 5-15 years for the wrongful conviction of a crime you didn’t commit. 

My heart breaks when I think about the 5 young men and the fact that were robbed of their teenage years. Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, and Antron McCray were sentenced to 5-10 years in juvenile correction facilities. Korey Wise, the oldest at 16 was sentenced as an adult to 5-15 years in prison. I couldn’t imagine, Korey said in his own words ‘I went through something that no one wants to go through, yet are so inquisitive about.’ I’ll admit, I am one of those inquisitive people. HOW did they do it?

I thought to myself ‘that couldn’t have been me, I wouldn’t let those hateful, inexperienced investigators treat me like that’ but you never know how you will react in a situation until you are in it. I am extremely grateful for the sacrifices of heroic figures such as the ‘Central Park 5.’ They were racially profiled, robbed of their teenage years, and hated without reason. However, they never stooped to the level of their oppressors- they rose and held onto their truth. Sadly, the justice system has and in most cases, continues to see brown skin as ‘suspects’ before truly analyzing the evidence. The truth ALWAYS comes to the light and the Central Park 5 case is an example of that. I applaud each of the victims of this case for their strength and perseverance. While watching this documentary I took Note of very important life lessons.

Hold onto Your Truth

Under the pressure of the police the young men were manipulated into admitting to a crime they did not commit. Even after the trial, there was no evidence or DNA that linked any of the five young men to the scene of the crime. However, because of investigators and the intensity of the interrogations the young men had written statements and made confessions on Camera that contradicted the truth which resulted in them being sentenced to time in jail. In the documentary, after Yusef and Kevin Richardson were released from jail, there is a scene where they have to attend a registered sex offender registration course. The women running the meeting (assuming she was law enforcement), asked Kevin if he would like to admit to the crime he was accused of. Kevin said ‘no’ because he did not commit any crime. The women was shocked and continued to pry him, yet Kevin held on to his truth. So many times we fold under pressure or allow people to speak what they believe is our truth: ‘you will never amount to anything’, ‘ You aren’t fit for this job’, ‘It’s impossible to do that’, etc. I love how Korey told the parol board that he wasn’t going to waste his time meeting with them if they weren’t ready to hear His truth. I think it is important that we hold onto our truth and never let go.

Continue to Do Good

The scene where Korey meets the actual rapist, Matias Reyes was the glimpse of hope we were all waiting for. Korey had experienced brutal injuries and Been held in solitary confinement for long periods of time. While the other 4 had been released from jail, Korey was still awaiting his parol. Years before Korey and Matias had an altercation at another prison but were separated. Fast forward and they are in the same correctional facility. Matias approaches Korey, apologizes for the prior disagreement, and commends him on his perseverance for serving time for something he did not do. Korey accepts his apology and keeps it moving without knowing that his courage had inspired Matias to confess. Had Korey tried to rehash the past and fight Matias, things may have turned out differently. Korey could’ve allowed years and years of frustration and heartache to be taken out on Matias, but he did the right thing and forgave him. This reminded me of the times I have a allowed a set back or bad day get me off track. I wonder if we approach tough situations with positivity and perseverance if that would make way for a huge breakthrough. The Bible says ‘do not grow weary in doing good for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up’ (Galatians 6:9). Thus, continue to do good because you never know how close you are to your breakthrough.

I have watched ‘When They See Us’ twice already and will watch it even more times. I believe this movie should be watched by everyone to captivate and drive the courage to fight for injustice. Atron McCray, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise are living examples of strength and perseverance.

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