Another review of “The Central Park Five”

Scott McConnell at The American Conservative reviews the Ken Burns documentary of the 1989 rape and assault of a Central Park jogger.  I wrote about the PBS documentary here.

The “Central Park Five” leaves one important question unanswered, says McConnell:

If Burns’s film has a failing, it is its failure to explore the real thoughts of the detectives, or subsequently, the two prosecutors, Elizabeth Lederer and Linda Fairstein, who put their game faces on and successfully prosecuted young people most in the city thought deserved to rot in jail. We now want to know whether the two suspected at the time their case was bogus. They must have, it seems to me. They had authority, and expertise, and they misused it. On the other hand, they had  ambitions, and a city which needed arrests and convictions. Some unseen voice—expressing the general will of crime-fearing New York—must have overridden their professional judgment.

Did these two prosecutors knowingly prosecute five innocent kids for purposes of expediency and career-building kudos?  I think the answer is very probably yes, but maybe not.  I have a saying:

There are no bad people, just people who have a great capacity to rationalize.

They could have convinced themselves that they were really doing the right thing.  In an interview in Think Progress, Ken and Sarah Burns speculate that Elizabeth Leder had “grave doubts” about the case, but has never openly discussed it.  Should Lederer and Fairstein have realized they were perverting justice?  Of course.   But I also think they, especially Fairstein, refuse to face that fact.  To believe they carried out their responsibilities in good faith requires a delusional perspective.  But, for them there is nothing to be gained by admitting that they, at worst, knowingly crucified innocent people or, at best, didn’t care.  They suffered no significant repercussions for their role in the perversion of justice during the Central Park Jogging case.  Their strategy is what the Central Park Five should have done from the beginning: deny, deny, deny.  Or, at least keep their mouths shut.