Black Student Protest Leads to Prosecutor in the Central Park Five Case Quitting Her Columbia Law School Job

Illustration for article titled Black Student Protest Leads to Prosecutor in the Central Park Five Case Quitting Her Columbia Law School Job
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Another day, another example of karma coming for folks in the fallout over the wrongful prosecutions of the Central Park Five.


Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Lederer has quit her part-time gig as a professor at Columbia Law School after renewed calls for her ouster by the Black Law Students Association, the New York Daily News reports.

Three decades ago, Lederer, along with Linda Fairstein, led the wrongful prosecution of a group of five black and brown boys in the rape and beating of a white jogger in New York’s iconic Central Park.

Ava DuVernay’s recently released Netflix docudrama about what happened to those boys-turned-men, When They See Us, has renewed interest in the legal travesty, and a backlash has ensued against some of the key players in the case.

On Wednesday, it was apparently Lederer’s turn.

In a statement, Lederer referenced the docudrama in explaining her decision to resign her position as a part-time lecturer at Columbia Law, the Washington Post reports.


“[...] given the nature of the recent publicity generated by the Netflix portrayal of the Central Park case, it is best for me not to renew my teaching application,” Lederer said, according to the Post.

The Black Law Students Association, referring to Lederer’s actions as “racist,” according to the News, had raised opposition to Lederer’s employment beginning some six years ago. The group said its plea was ignored—except for Columbia deciding to remove references to the Central Park Five case from Lederer’s university bio.


“Columbia Law School should fire Elizabeth Lederer but that is just a start,” read a letter written by the group in which the students also made a broader plea: “The school needs to address the racism in how the law is taught.”


In 1989, the boys who would come to be known as the Central Park Five were vilified in the press as a “wolf pack” of gang rapists who went “wildin’” through the beloved public space and brutalized a twentysomething jogger.

The boys were convicted and spent the rest of their childhoods in prison before a confession and DNA evidence proved what many of the boys’ supporters had long known: They were innocent.


The now grown men’s convictions were overturned in 2002, and in 2014, the city of New York paid out $41 million to settle their civil rights lawsuits, as the New York Times notes.

Lederer’s resignation was the latest example of fallout from the renewed interest in the case following the release of When They See Us.


Last week, her prosecutorial partner, Fairstein, who’d become a bestselling author in the decades since the infamous case, was dropped by a publisher.


The dean of Columbia Law School told Bloomberg News the school was committed to encouraging “important” discussion about “difficult issues,” as the News reports:

“The mini-series has reignited a painful—and vital—national conversation about race, identity, and criminal justice. I am deeply committed to fostering a learning environment that furthers this important and ongoing dialogue, one that draws upon the lived experiences of all members of our community and actively confronts the most difficult issues of our time,” Dean Gillian Lester told Bloomberg News.



I have to point out that “When They See Us” is not documentary. Documentaries are non-fiction and don’t use actors. It’s a superbly researched mini-series that dramatizes real events like “Selma.” It’s a critical distinction because the conflation of the two distinct genres undercuts the article. Ken Burns produced an excellent documentary which was used as source material along with many records. Ava did such a great job with the research that Fairstein never had a chance. Her Op-Ed in the WSJ was shameful as she seemed to forget that the appellate courts called her out for her perverse approach to the case. Lederer knew she was toast and at least had the good sense to resign. Fairstein ignored exculpatory evidence in two other high profile rape cases that were eventually were overturned. She also helped Harvey Weinstein skate when he was accused of rape. The record can disprove everything she claimed in her editorial.

This 20020 article from the Village Voice shreds her arrogant, cruel, and racist editorial.

“Each time one of these cases occurred, her books probably went flying off the shelves,” says Jovanovic. “She used what happened in that unit to make money, and that is wrong.” After all, her Alexandra Cooper mystery series is about a hard-nosed woman prosecutor.

In the period between the 1989 jogger case and the 1998 cybersex trial, Fairstein produced two books, both of which were bestsellers.

Fairstein gruffly dismissed Yusef Salaam’s aunt and threatened his mentor, Brooklyn federal prosecutor David Nocenti, in refusing to let them see the teen while he was being interrogated. According to both Sharonne Salaam and Timothy Sullivan’s book on the case, Unequal Verdicts, Fairstein then called her husband to demand the home number of Nocenti’s then boss, Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Andrew Maloney, so she could get the young attorney fired. According to court records, Fairstein even tried to block Sharonne Salaam from interrupting the interrogation, despite Sharonne’s claims that Yusef was 15 and too young to be questioned without an adult.