Transcript, Web links and Credits below.
If you have not yet listened to Episodes 45 and 46, stop now and listen there first. Today is part three in a series on the Central Park Five. In part one, I unpack the power of Ava DuVernay’s new Netflix series, ‘When They See Us.’ In part two, I unpack the Supreme Court case that is really keeping us from holding the corrupt prosecutors in the Central Park Five case accountable, and today I’m going to give us some very specific action steps we can take. But today will make way more sense if you listen to Episodes 45 and 46. Our action steps will have more meaning and depth.
Let’s dig in.
This is Shaun King and you are listening to (The Breakdown)!
Justice is damn hard to come by in this country. And I’ve unpacked and explained some of what I’m about to say before, but I have to repeat it. Justice, particularly if you’ve been railroaded by police or prosecutors, justice isn’t so rare because we’re not working hard enough, it’s not so rare because we don’t care enough. It’s not that. Justice is so rare in cases of police violence and in cases of prosecutorial corruption or misconduct because the laws are designed in a way to protect them and not us. And I mean that literally.
For hundreds of years, American police and prosecutors — and their unions — have fought for protections all the way up to the Supreme Court to make it nearly impossible to ever hold them accountable. Yesterday, on Episode 46, I broke down the Supreme Court case Imbler v. Pachtman from 1976, which gave prosecutors “absolute immunity” from being sued for their misconduct — even if it was deliberate, even if they framed a person, even if they suppressed evidence that would free you or concocted evidence that would convict you. Imbler v. Pachtman took away all of the rights of citizens to hold corrupt prosecutors accountable.
And for just a second, I need to break down the difference between “absolute immunity” and “qualified immunity.”
(Break it down music)
As it stands right now, American prosecutors have absolute immunity from being held legally responsible for their misconduct. And that word “absolute” is as strong as you think it is. Imbler v. Pachtman from 1976 gives American prosecutors more protection from their own misconduct than any other profession in the nation. And I think it’s wrong. I think Imbler v. Pachtman is wrong and I think it should be challenged.
At the very most, prosecutors should have what’s called “qualified immunity,” and what that does is give government officials extensive legal protections, far more than the average everyday citizen, but that those protections have a few essential qualifications or standards to meet. Government officials with qualified immunity lose their immunity if they knowingly violate the law or knowingly violate someone’s constitutional rights. Now those things are harder to prove than it seems, but at least some legal grounds exist to try to hold people with qualified immunity accountable — whereas the people with absolute immunity are virtually untouchable.
Which brings me back to the Central Park Five.
If you’ve watched ‘When They See Us’ on Netflix, or if you’ve studied the case for yourself, you know that Linda Fairstein, who was the head of the Sex Crimes Unit of the Manhattan DA’s Office, was at the center of the injustice that these five young boys experienced. She was the mastermind of the case. Everything that happened in the case happened under her watch. She suppressed DNA evidence that would have exonerated the boys, she oversaw the forced confessions, and she knew that they didn’t have a single shred of physical evidence that boys had anything to do with the assault. But she didn’t care. And when it was all said and done — and the boys got sent to jail and prison for years — she got rich off of it. She became famous. Glamour Magazine named her their Woman of the Year. She quit the office and started writing crime novels — and made a fortune. She was appointed to over a dozen nonprofit boards. And even after the boys were exonerated, none of them thought twice about removing her. Think about that for a minute. What for us was one of the biggest injustices of the 20th century, didn’t cause the charities and colleges to even bat an eye. Our pain was irrelevant to them.
Linda Fairstein appointed Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Lederer as the lead prosecutor on this case. She ignored every bit of evidence, every inconsistency, every lie, every abuse, every thing that would’ve exonerated the boys she ignored and every lie that convicted them she lifted up. And to this day she’s still in the Manhattan DA’s Office. And she’s a Professor at Columbia Law School. Her co-prosecutor was Tim Clements — who has since left the Manhattan DA’s Office, but is practicing law full time in Cleveland.
Which brings me to our action steps for today.
(ACTION STEPS MUSIC)
Remember, these prosecutors have absolute immunity, so even though the city paid these families $40+ million dollars for what they suffered, even though they were exonerated, even though the cases were overturned, they all continued without even a speed bump in their careers. Hell — they benefited from it. And that’s not OK.
And what I often have to tell the families that I am counseling or guiding through the process of justice is that we may not get justice in the courts, we may not get a traditional form of justice, so sometimes we have to make our own justice, and that’s what we’re going to have to do with Linda Fairstein, Elizabeth Lederer, and Tim Clements — the prosecutors on this case.
Because here is what I know — the only justice we’re ever going to get is the justice we fight for ourselves. NOBODY is going to hold them responsible without us fighting for it.
So today I am going to give us 3 clear action steps to take.
- Elizabeth Lederer needs to be let go from Columbia Law School. No prosecutor that has done what she did should be elevated to the role of a professor of law or guide students. It’s outrageous. I need you to call and speak to Gillian Lester — the Dean of the Faculty at Columbia Law School. Her number is (212) 854 -2675 and her email is email@example.com. As always, be respectful, be courteous, but communicate to her that no prosecutor involved in such misconduct should be teaching law there.
- Call the Manhattan DA’s Office at (212) 335-9000 and ask to speak to a supervisor. Let them know that you would like an official Integrity Review Unit to review every case that Linda Fairstein and her team ever oversaw. Ask them what it will take for something like that to happen. And then let me know at TheBreakdown@TheNorthStar.com how that goes.
- I need us to contact Tim Clements ourselves. He’s not feeling the heat on this. firstname.lastname@example.org & 216-621-7227.
Thank you all for making it all the way through this episode of The Breakdown!
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Produced by Willis Polk II
Extra Production by Christian “Idrys” Shannon
Additional Instrumentation by Christian “Idrys” Shannon, Lance “Lance Fury” Powlis & Markeith Black
Additional Engineering by Amond “AJ” Jackson for Salem Psalms Library
Additional Vocals by Garnett “Natti” Bush & Jason Coffey
Scratches by Kenny “DJ FlipFlop” Vanderberg