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Vassar Board Member Quits Over Backlash To Netflix Series On Central Park 5

Linda Fairstein (center) with friends in 2009.
Linda Fairstein (center) with friends in 2009. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Former prosecutor Linda Fairstein has resigned from the Board of Trustees at her alma mater, Vassar College, in the wake of the backlash she’s received for her role in helping oversee the “Central Park Five” case three decades ago that saw five teenage boys of color wrongfully convicted of a brutal rape.

The former prosecutor has been in hot water since the release of the Netflix miniseries “When They See Us,” which depicts a dramatization of the trial of the teens who were wrongfully convicted of raping a jogger in Central Park in 1989.

Fairstein was a prosecutor in the case, which came under fire in 2002 when it was determined that the confessions of the Central Park Five had been allegedly coerced and their conviction was overturned. Matias Reyes, a convicted serial rapist and murderer, eventually confessed to the rape.

In the Netflix special, Fairstein is portrayed by Westchester County native Felicity Huffman, who grew up in Bedford.

“I have just learned from the Chair of the Board of Trustees that Linda Fairstein has resigned from the Board, as of today. I am told that Ms. Fairstein felt that, given the recent widespread debate over her role in the Central Park case, she believed that her continuing as a Board member would be harmful to Vassar,” Board President Elizabeth Bradley wrote in a statement.

In addition to her resignation at Vassar, Fairstein, who was born in Mount Vernon, also resigned from her position on the board of the nonprofit organization Safe Horizon.

“After careful consideration, Lina Fairstein has made the difficult decision to resign from the Safe Horizon Board of Directors,” Safe Horizon said in a statement. “We thank her for her decades of pioneering work on behalf of victims of sexual assault and abuse. For more than 40 years, Safe Horizon's top priority has been empowering victims and survivors."

Fairstein, who has also penned nearly two dozen novels, was the subject of a student-led petition that garnered more than 13,000 signatures calling for her resignation shortly before it became official.

A second change.org petition was created this week calling for retailers and publishers to pull Fairstein’s books, which has garnered more than 80,000 signatures in just a few days.

“Linda Fairstein led a witch hunt against five teenage boys even though the physical evidence didn't support her theory she raged on with one goal in mind & that was to get a conviction,” petition leaders wrote on the website.

Fairstein has also been stripped of Glamour's 1993 Woman of the Year Award

Prior to her resignation, Fairstein told The Daily Beast the series was "a basket of lies", and accused creator Ava DuVernay of orchestrating a public campaign against her. Fairstein reportedly petitioned DuVernay to get script approval before the miniseries was released.

In a letter to the editor of the New York Law Journal, Fairstein said that “the confessions were not coerced. The questioning was respectful, dignified, carried out according to the letter of the law and with sensitivity to the young age of the men.”

“The events of the last few days have underscored how the history of racial and ethnic tensions in this country continue to deeply influence us today, and in ways that change over time,” Bradley continued. “As I have received many emails and phone calls from people who have expressed a broad range of views on this issue, I am reminded of William Faulkner’s quote: ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’”

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