A district attorney who helped prosecute the notorious Central Park Five case is abandoning her post as a part-time lecturer at Columbia Law School following backlash sparked by the new Netflix series “When They See Us.”
Elizabeth Lederer, who still serves a prosecutor at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, informed students and faculty in a letter Wednesday that she won’t be seeking reappointment next year, the New York Post reported.
“I have enjoyed my years teaching at CLS, and the opportunity it has given me to interact with the many fine students who elected to take my classes,” Lederer wrote.
“However, 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,” she added.
The four-part series, created and written by director Ava DuVernay, dramatizes the story of five Black and Latino teens wrongly convicted in the rape and assault of a female jogger in Manhattan’s Central Park in 1989. The show has gained national acclaim since its release late last month, becoming the most-watched show on Netflix.
Lederer, portrayed in the series by actress Vera Farmiga, worked as an assistant prosecutor in the case, alongside then-sex crimes investigator Linda Fairstein, who played a pivotal role in coercing the false confessions that landed the teens in jail. The young men would spend between six and 13 years in prison before DNA evidence and a confession by Matias Reyes, a convicted serial rapist, cleared them of the crime.
The Central Park Five — Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise — became the Exonerated Five after having their convictions vacated in 2002. They were later awarded a $41 million settlement from the City of New York in 2014.
Gillian Lester, dean of Columbia Law, added that DeVernay’s series on the case had ‘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,” Lester wrote.
University leaders recently faced pressure from the campus’s Black Law Students Association to terminate Lederer over her “racist” actions. In a letter penned to the university, the group also demanded that Columbia Law School overhaul its current curriculum to combat what they call institutionalized racism in the criminal justice system.
New statement released from the @ColumbiaLaw Black Law Students Association— Barred and Boujee (@AudreLawdAMercy) June 11, 2019
Students call for #CentralPark5 prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer to be fired from her Lecturer in Law position
Also call on the law school to center anti-racism in its curriculum and pedagogy pic.twitter.com/U8By81KWBB
“Columbia Law School should fire Elizabeth Lederer but that is just a start,” it reads. “The school must do more because letting one professor go doesn’t improve the lives of Black and Latinx law students, nor does it improve the learning experience of students of color at Columbia Law School.”
“The school needs to address the racism in how the law is taught,” the group added.
Lederer’s resignation also comes on the heels of Fairstein, now an acclaimed crime novelist, being dropped by her publisher in the wake of renewed backlash garnered by the Netflix series. She too, has been forced to step down from various charity boards.
The former prosecutor, 71, recently voiced displeasure over how she was portrayed in the Netflix series, saying “When They See Us” was “so full of distortions and falsehoods as to be an outright fabrication.”
“Ms. DuVernay’s film attempts to portray me as an overzealous prosecutor and a bigot, the police as incompetent or worse, and the five suspects as innocent of all charges against them,” Fairstein wrote in a recent op-ed for The Wall Street Journal.