When They See Us begins its first episode in Harlem 1989, where we see five teenagers go about their normal lives. Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Antron Mcray, Yusef Salaam and Raymond Santana will later be referred to as the Central 5 but for now they’re everyday, ordinary teenagers. The same evening, they each join a group of kids partying and head to Central Park. As the party gets out of control and the police arrive, they all start to run away but a few of them, including Kevin and Raymond, end up being arrested.
Detective Linda Fairstein arrives at the scene of a crime; a female jogger has been brutally rapped and almost beaten to death which acts as the catalyst for what follows. The next morning, as the boys’ parents arrive at the police station, the Detective starts questioning some of the teenagers caught in the raid.
Linda decides that the kids weren’t witnesses to the rape after all but suspects as they were “Wilding” they do have a hand in what happened. She convinces all the other officers to arrest everyone that was in the park last night as the number of rapes has been increasing greatly over the last year and she feels like they need to start taking control over these crimes.
The police then arrive at Antron’s house to arrest him as they know he was present in the park the night before. Yusef and Korey also get taken to the station the next day even though Korey was not even on the list. As dread and desperation become the overwhelming themes of the episode, Kevin Richardson’s mother had to leave to get her medication which pleases the police men, knowing they will be able to interrogate him without a parent present.
Antron, Yusef and Raymond are also being interrogated. One by one we see them being brutally questioned and told that the others have accused them of raping a female jogger. Using different persuasive methods and lies concocted for each of them, the police manage to convince them to accuse each other which ends up working in their favour. Until Yusef’s mother arrives, that is, angry that they interrogated her son without her present given he is a minor.
Linda meets with counselor Lederer to show her the case she has been working on. She questions the validity of what’s presented, given all the confessions are different. The police then decide to work on trying to make the story stick by bending the truth. They beat up Korey to make him falsely confess before the other 4 boys are thrown in a holding cell , finally coming to the conclusion that they lied about each other. The episode ends with all of them being arrested and taken away.
The first part of the Netflix mini series starts quite strongly and gets straight to the heart of the action. The teenagers’ interrogations feel very similar to Brendan Dassey’s in Netflix’s Making A Murderer, as well as The Confession Tapes which use a similar tactic. It’s a tough watch, no doubt about it, and these moments are among some of the shocking in this first episode.
The actors playing the Central Park 5 portraying their characters strongly, each giving believable performances in their role. Given the thematic significance of this one, When They See Us reinforces how America is rife with racism and how the justice system always seem to fail people of colour. It’s a tough watch at times, but one that gets off to a great start.