When they see us...Review

(Episode 1 and 2)

I am a sucker for trailers and I remember watching the trailer for ‘When they see us” and it won me over in seconds; and trust me it wasn’t some type of good trailer – bad movie situation like Birdbox. This thing deserves the teasing and expectation everyone who hasn’t watched it is going through. I thought I was never going to watch this like most of the stuffs trending on Netflix that I dream about but never watched because I don’t have a Netflix account. Last time I had to sleep at my best friend’s place to watch Birdbox and it was such a disappointment, geez! Like wanting a guy so badly and finding out he is bad in bed. For those who have never been here, I am sorry for my brutal honesty and for taking forever to go to the point, introductions are a big thing for me so I like to take my time.

I have witnessed American police injustice in several movies, the only one that comes to my mind now is ‘Crash’. So, I knew what to expect from “When they see us”. Can I start by talking about the title? Wow! What kind of creative and woke genius are we dealing with? The expression refers to the reactions of people when they see a group of young coloured men from the hood walking together. When they see us transmits the fear, pre-conceived notions, assumptions, stereotypes and prejudice of being black. When people see us – black people – they feel unease, they hold their partners or bags stronger and they protect themselves in any way they can…

The series start with the different kids living their lives and finding themselves at the same place - the Central Park. They were all ‘wilding’…what is wilding? First thing that came to my mind was Whiz Khalifa’s song “Young, wild and free” and those kids were exactly that but sooner they wouldn’t be free anymore. I assumed wilding was peeking on each other, talking about girls, smoking weed, dancing or anything a normal teenager does. There’s a lot of kids in the park, then suddenly the police shows up, they hear the sirens and they start running. Have you thought about the irony? How can you feel scared by the ones who vowed to protect us? They didn’t do anything, they just run… one cop hits Kevin in his head with something I can’t remember and arrests him and Raymond.

The next morning, Raymond’s father and grandmother get to the police looking in a hurry but not worried as he didn’t make a big deal of the arrest saga, it looked like something that has happened before; but bear in mind that he kept saying “my child is a good kid, he never gave me trouble” and I believed him even though it looked like a common situation in that environment which seem to be surrounded by unfairness and injustice. They ask him to stay, he says he needs to go to work and asks if his grandmother can stay instead. His grandmother doesn’t speak English, please pay attention to these details. They interrogate Raymond and ask them about the lady, he denies seeing any lady and looked confused. I don’t remember the scene where they beat him up but I think they beat every kid. After long hours of interrogation and intimidation, his dad comes back and the mood changes. I remember watching a documentary and seeing the real Raymond Santana saying “I lied to them but I couldn’t lie to my Dad” and it says so much about the type of person he was and the bond they have. Raymond’s character was very believable, he looked scared and sad, I remember this scene where he lies on his grandmother’s lap and I could tell he was going through hell. Raymond’s dad is a typical ’Latino dad’, protective and family-oriented; and the actor didn’t even look like he was playing a character’s role, it looked like he is exactly like that in real life. Their relationship didn’t help anything because at that point Raymond already had agreed on admitting being involved someway in a crime he didn’t commit.

Seeing that wound on Kevin’s face was so painful because he was the smallest of them. In one of the documentaries about the Central Park five they mentioned that his mother was ill but I couldn’t tell, there is only this scene where he goes home before going to the park, kisses her forehead and there is something on her nose, I guess something to help her breathe better. At the station, she kept asking about him and they ignored her, the sister is asked to be present in the interrogation but before she arrived they spent hours asking him insane questions. Out of the five, his reaction when they asked about the jogger, for me was the most sincere “what lady?”. The thing about this crime is that they were not involved at all, they were not even witnesses. One thing is you know a crime happened and another thing is having no idea what they were talking about.

They told Kevin to make a tape and asked his sister to sign a confession so he would go home. His sister comes completely losing it, you could tell from her eyes she was saying “this is my little brother, can’t you see how helpless and innocent he is? How can you say he did that?”. Kevin cries and begs her to sign a testimony where he says that Antron did it, not him. She signed because he kept saying “It’s okay, It’s okay”, she couldn’t bear to see him like that, you could tell she would do anything for her brother. They look alike, they actually did a great casting job. Kevin didn’t even know Antron. God, this case is so incongruent! I don’t need to be a lawyer to argue or judge how implausible it is for five boys to plan a rape and murder if they didn’t know each other, how can you trust each other? Even to do evil you need trust.  

While they gathered thirty kids in a room, to question about their “wilding”, Linda, the prosecutor, asked one of them about Antron. The way she asked like she wasn’t going to hurt them, “It’s okay”, she said. I almost believed her. The kid gives her Antron’s address and they get him. I think I missed something, why was she asking about Antron? Why did they take him and asked the others to go home? If there were thirty kids, why were only five interrogated?  Please reason along with me. Antron was my least favourite of the guys, I don’t know why. Please don’t get me wrong, I empathise with what he went through and I am really sorry. Out of all the boys, he seemed more controlled of the situation and even though his relationship with his father was ruined after that, I think his father was a good father. The scene where he asked to speak with one of the cops and tells him “my son didn’t do that, he is not even into girls like that yet” was so personal and showed how much he knew his son. The cop completely ignored what he said and used their psychological twisted ways to make him force his son to lie. They mentioned that the dad did time before, you could tell that he knew about the system and how corrupted it was. He goes back to the room and screams to Antron and makes him admit to something he didn’t do “Just tell them what they want to hear”. I still can’t believe injustice like that really exist, I am shocked. Antron makes his tape and I think he is the one who said that he was on top of her but didn’t put his penis. I was even surprised he knew what his penis is for. I swear these were kids!! I watched the real tapes and I could tell by their innocent looks that they didn’t do this.

Three down, two to go.

Yusef goes there voluntary, why?? Who told him to go there? Apparently they were asking kids to come forward and be witnesses. So I guess they thought they were helping, so cute right? He gets there, they start asking about the jogger and mentioned Raymond, and once again, he has no clue whatsoever of what they were talking about. Yusef seems sweet and obedient. I like his hair cut but his cool look won’t help him. They ask him the same questions and use their faulty ways to get something out of him and before they convince him to sign a confession and record a tape, his mother arrives. His mother looks fearless, I guess it was that kind of attitude Antron wanted his dad to have. Yusef ‘s mother finds Linda, the prosecutor and tells her “how dare you leave my son hours with these man? Shame on you!” Finally! Finally someone has balls! Linda looks cold and unbothered, what makes people become like that, is it because of their jobs and what they need to witness every day? Yusef and his mother leave and at this point I ask myself  “How is this kid still involved in this?”. And I got even more confused and upset with the next scenario. Brace yourself!

Kory…oh God! Kory decides to accompany Yusef to the police station, a police tells him his name is not on the list! Wait a minute, I get it now, so they had a list with every teenager’s name who was in the park but how could they know they were in the park. I concluded it was a small neighbourhood and everyone knew each other, except for those 5 kids!!!! Only Kory and Yusef knew each other… and I guess Kory wished he never met Yusef. The police guy tells him to come and even says “you are a good friend”, from the look on Kory’s face you can tell he has no idea of what is going to happen to him, it reminded me of Michelle Knight and how Castro seduced her into the house and she only left ten years later (watch the documentary The Cleveland abduction) and that’s exactly what happened to Kory, he was trapped. He is outside waiting for Yusef, then a police comes and before he could even speak, the cop starts beating him up for no reason, and then they asked the magical question “what did you do to the lady?” and once again the same innocent response “which lady?”. I am like what? You can just do that? You know life reminds you every day that if your parents don’t have money or a certain position, you are nothing! People say money doesn’t matter, it does, money buys respect.

At this point I am also asking myself “which lady?”. And the way police were capable of manipulating this, they were also capable of coming up with fictional lady just to incarcerate five black men. They make the tape and you can tell that he is lying, nothing he says makes sense, not at all. And then he starts saying “I take full responsibility, I have never been in any extreme situation, I never touched a lady like that”, you can tell by the words he chose to use he watched a lot of crime investigation series. You can also tell that he has no idea of the implication of what he is saying and he just wants to go home. He is speaking fast and he looks clumsy, his tape is so incredibly bad. The tapes in general don’t provide any type of credibility not even for my review and I wonder how they could help in a trial.

They take him into custody after that. To be honest, after beating him how could they just let him go? It’s like a robber when he goes to a house he can’t just beat up someone, he needs to kill them and that’s what they did. I keep thinking about this scenario in the lens of life and power, it’s like the police and a higher being, they can just decide our fate. Police can make you pay for a crime you didn’t commit and the universe can just make you be at a certain situation that you don’t know how you found yourself in. It’s like every detail is working in favour of someone; granting all his wishes. Everything was against them, it seemed as the universe wanted them to be caught on this, like Thanos snapped his fingers and it made it happen. Think about it, the fact that Raymond’s grandma didn’t speak English, it was easy for them to manipulate him; Antron’s dad having a criminal record; Kevin’s mother being ill; Yusef calling Korey to hang out with him at the park; Korey not being able to read or hear properly… I always thought coincidence was a good thing until you find yourself in a situation like this. 

There’s this scene where the five of them meet and apparently they are already in juvie, except Kory. Kevin seems warm and caring, giving support to the others. And I wondered how come they didn’t hate each other since they all blamed each other. Were they really as forgiving as the production made it seem? I have so many questions, was Kory already going through all that stuff showcased in episode 4 when the trial happened? If so, I believe that’s why he reacted like that after hearing his verdict.

Let’ go to the trials.

The families and the lawyers work together and prepare for the trial. At some occasions you see them getting into disagreements, Yusef mom’s excluding herself from the mess because her son didn’t make a tape and so on. Since Antron and Yusef were on bail they were part of the meetings between their families and lawyers. On the other side of the story where corruption resides they analyse each lawyer and underestimate them. The lawyers allegedly didn’t have a lot of experience. But they did a good job, I don’t know if they were as good as they were in the series but for individuals without experience they did a hella of a job, especially Antron’ lawyer. There were so many good arguments, I can’t even begin. Raymond showed that the rape happened in a completely different place; Kevin was forced to say the jogger beat him in the head but there was no DNA of Kevin in her nails; Antron supposedly was on top of her but he had no blood on his clothes; Yusef never made a confession; Kory signed a confession saying he did it but he couldn’t even read; and the semen didn’t belong to any of them.

Nancy, the district attorney, was being terribly mean but not smart, however,  having the jogger come to the trial, was an astute move. I think the only thing missing on the central park 5 defense team was a woman, it would have given another perspective to the case having a woman defending men against a woman as a victim. Can we talk about the cops, why didn’t they give them more stage time? They were the reason all these things happened! Watching this series finally felt like we were the ones in charge now, we were interrogating and beating the prosecutor team and approximately 30 cops…They deserve all the backlash and bullying on social media.

While the trial was happening, at some point, they were offered a deal to get a lighter sentence and they refused. I felt like these boys grew up fast during these months of turbulence. And I understood them, to them, accepting the deal would make them go through the same thing, admitting to something they didn’t do, just like the police asked them to do.

This whole thing was a scheme, it was one of Linda’s crime fiction novels coming to life, she wanted this! Five kids from a ghetto neighbourhood in New York with ‘struggling families’ raping a white woman. In one of the first scenes, Linda describes what happened saying “he dragged her here…” meaning she knew this was a one person’s job. Looking back, she also mentioned “did you pick up any gays and homeless people?”, and we got a sense of how biased she was from the beginning. It was hard for me not to like her because I like Felicity Huffman as an actress. I couldn’t even choose who was colder, was Linda or Nancy? At some point, Nancy looked like she knew what they were doing was wrong but her desire to win the case spoke louder.

As a wannabe lawyer, I get it. A case like that needed someone accountable, someone to blame for all this. For instance, when you lose someone you feel relief when authorities find the murderer. I imagine that the prosecutor team owed that Trisha Meili. Rape cases are very sensitive because if action is not taking, the people start this whole movement about feminism and how women are not taking into consideration. On top of that, when I re-watched the unresponsive tapes, the fact that they didn’t do this made it look in camera that they did but had no remorse which made the sentence inevitable.

This whole thing was two hours of tears and anger…not even when Antron tells Raymond “lets run away and go to Mexico” could make this thing lighter. It was funny but I ask myself, were these kids able to smile after that? Throughout the trial they still had that bit of hope, that feeling that you only have when you are a child because you know that nothing bad can happen because you are a kid, right? But they were not just kids, they were animals, bastards, beasts, devils, rapists…. The names the police used several times to describe these kids was enough to know what conviction was ahead of them. Guilty!

Lunga Izata

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