Prompted by Central Park Five series, Columbia U. Black law students target prosecutor
As part of the fallout from the recent Netflix series, students at Columbia Law School want lecturer Elizabeth Lederer one of the main assistant district attorneys on the case, ousted
Spurred by the revelations in When They See Us, the Ava DuVernay film adaptation of the Central Park Five story, Black law students at Columbia University want prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer dismissed as a lecturer.
In a letter drafted on Tuesday, the Columbia Law School Black Law Students Association noted that Lederer “wrongfully prosecuted” five Black and Brown teens for the 1989 rape and beating of a jogger in Central Park.
“The lives of these five boys were forever changed as a result of Lederer’s conduct,” the letter reads. “During the investigation, Lederer and her colleagues used harmful, racist tactics, including physical abuse and coercion, to force confessions from the five minors. The case they built was founded on false information and an overwhelming lack of physical evidence.”
The students note that this week’s letter is not the first attempt to have Lederer removed from the Ivy League school in New York City’s Harlem.
In 2013, a petition also seeking Lederer’s removal circulated on campus. The school’s response was to remove the Central Park Five case from Lederer’s online bio.
“Now, with the release of Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us on Netflix, Columbia’s inaction on this subject shows a disconnect between the values Columbia purports and and the actions the Law School takes,” according to the letter.
The New York Law Journal reached out to Columbia for comment but received no response.
Last week, the university’s Black Students Organization began circulating a petition calling for Lederer to step down and calling on Columbia Medical School to recall an award it bestowed on Linda Fairstein, who oversaw the prosecution as head of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office Sex Crimes Unit.
The law students’ letter and the students’ petition is part of the fallout from DuVernay’s miniseries, in which prosecutors Lederer and Fairstein are portrayed as complicit in covering up evidence that would have pointed to Matias Reyes, the man who ultimately confessed to the crime years after the five teens were convicted and served years in state prison.
Since the miniseries’ May 31, release, #CancelLindaFairstein and #CancelElizabethLederer hashtags have circulated on social media.