Netflix’s new series When They See Us tells the story of the Central Park 5: the five teenagers who were wrongfully imprisoned for the violent rape of a female jogger in 1989. Following its release, The New York Times has chosen Emily Bazelon’s Charged as one of six must-read books to help viewers better contextualize the crime, investigation, and it’s aftermath.
Thirty years ago, five black and latino boys in New York City were falsely convicted of the rape and attempted murder of Trisha Meili, a 28-year-old white woman. Years after DNA evidence exonerated the boys (now men) collectively known as the Central Park 5, director Ava DuVernay revisits the case with her heart-wrenching miniseries When They See Us: a powerful indictment of an unchecked criminal justice system influenced by racial bias. Veteran legal journalist and Lavin speaker Emily Bazelon crafted a similar indictment earlier this year in her bestselling book Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration. Now, The New York Times is recommending Charged as a companion read to the series, offering viewers a key to understanding the many grey areas of the legal system—and how something like the Central Park 5 case could have happened.
In Charged, Bazelon shows readers how having the right prosecutor can change everything. Through the stories of two young defendants navigating the system, interspersed with years of meticulous research, Bazelon makes a compelling argument for excessive prosecutorial powers being responsible for over-incarceration in the United States.
Though she paints a bleak picture of the system in its current state, Bazelon remains hopeful that American prosecution can heal itself through the inclusion of young and diverse prosecutors with their eye on reform. “Prosecutors also hold the key to change,” Bazelon writes. “They can protect against convicting the innocent. They can guard against racial bias. They can curtail mass incarceration.”