'Central Park Five' prosecutor drops Columbia law teaching post amid backlash

Prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer will not be returning to teach at Columbia University Law School after students demanded she leave the school for her role in sending five now-exonerated black and Latino boys to jail in the infamous Central Park jogger case.

Lederer told the university on Wednesday she has decided to not seek reappointment as a part-time lecturer because of the publicity that has come after the airing of “When They See Us,” a new Netflix portrayal of the 1989 case that made national news, according to a statement to students from the school’s dean initially obtained by Bloomberg Law.

“The mini-series has reignited a painful ― and vital ― national conversation about race, identity, and criminal justice,” said Dean Gillian Lester. “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.”

Lederer is responsible for prosecuting the so-called Central Park Five ― Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise ― in the assault and rape of a white female jogger in New York City’s Central Park. The boys, ages 14 to 16 at the time, were coerced into confessions and then wrongfully convicted. They spent years in prison before DNA evidence from a man who confessed to the attack in 2002 vindicated them.

Since then, the case has been widely considered an example of how the criminal justice system unfairly penalizes and dehumanizes people of color, specifically young black and Latino males. While the five were eventually exonerated, at the time of the trial they were painted as violent criminals by media and prosecutors, including Lederer.

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Central Park Five
Queens District Attorney candidate Tiffany Caban, far right, and New York Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, third from left, join a coalition of civil rights activists at a press conference, calling for an investigation of former Assistant District Attorney Linda Fairstein, Tuesday June 11, 2019, in New York. The group is "demanding" that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance appoint an independent investigation to review Fairstein's roll in the rape conviction of the "Central Five," who were all exonerated by DNA evidence-- supporting their claim of false conviction. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Honoree Yusef Salaam sheds a tear as he speaks to the audience at the ACLU SoCal's 25th Annual Luncheon at the JW Marriott at LA Live, Friday, June 7, 2019, in Los Angeles. Salaam was one of five Harlem teenagers who were wrongly convicted of assaulting and raping a female jogger in New York City's Central Park in 1989. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Honoree Yusef Salaam, one of five Harlem teenagers who was wrongly convicted of assaulting and raping a female jogger in New York City's Central Park in 1989, addresses the audience at the ACLU SoCal's 25th Annual Luncheon at the JW Marriott at LA Live, Friday, June 7, 2019, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
FILE- In this May 20, 2019 file photo, Director Ava DuVernay, center, with the Central Park 5: Raymond Santana, from left, Kevin Richardson, Korey Wise, Anthony McCray and Yuesf Salaam, attend the world premiere of "When They See Us," at the Apollo Theater in New York. A former prosecutor in the Central Park Five case has resigned from at least two nonprofit boards as backlash intensified following the release of the Netflix series "When They See Us," a miniseries that dramatizes the events surrounding the trial. (Photo by Donald Traill/Invision/AP)
FILE- In this May 20, 2019 file photo, director Ava DuVernay attends the world premiere of her film "When They See Us," at the Apollo in New York. Linda Fairstein, a former prosecutor in the Central Park Five case, has resigned from at least two nonprofit boards as backlash intensified following the release of the Netflix miniseries that dramatizes the events surrounding the trial. (Photo by Donald Traill/Invision/AP, File)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 07: Honorees (L to R) Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson and Korey Wise embrace on stage at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California's 25th annual awards luncheon on June 7, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. The five were wrongfully convicted as teenagers of raping a jogger in New York's Central Park in 1989. They were dubbed 'The Central Park Five' at the time and have since been released from prison and completely exonerated. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 07: Honoree Yusef Salaam (R) hugs actor Michael B. Jordan at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California's 25th annual awards luncheon on June 7, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. Salaam was one of the five teenagers wrongfully convicted of raping a jogger in New York's Central Park in 1989. The five were dubbed 'The Central Park Five' at the time and have since been released and completely exonerated. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 07: Honorees (L to R) Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson and Korey Wise appear on stage at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California's 25th annual awards luncheon on June 7, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. The five were wrongfully convicted as teenagers of raping a jogger in New York's Central Park in 1989. They were dubbed 'The Central Park Five' at the time and have since been released from prison and completely exonerated. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 20: (L-R) Kevin Richardson, Antron Mccray, Raymond Santana Jr., director Ava Duvernay Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam attend the World Premiere of Netflix's "When They See Us" at the Apollo Theater on May 20, 2019 in New York City. at The Apollo Theater on May 20, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic) (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 20: (L-R) Kevin Richardson, Antron Mccray, Raymond Santana Jr., Korey Wise, and Yusef Salaam, collectively known as the "Central Park Five", attend the World Premiere of Netflix's "When They See Us" at the Apollo Theater on May 20, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)
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The dean’s letter came after Columbia’s Black Students Organization circulated a petition at the university to hold accountable Lederer and then-Assistant District Attorney Linda Fairstein, who had received an Award for Excellence at the university’s medical school.

“While these five innocent teenagers were disgraced by the media and the American public, stripped of their most basic rights and freedoms, and robbed of their childhoods, the women who were directly involved in their persecution were praised, awarded, and even employed by an institution located right in Harlem’s backyard, which many of these boys and their families called home,” the organization said in its petition, which received nearly 10,000 signatures.

Fairstein, now a mystery novelist, has also faced renewed backlash this month for her role in overseeing the prosecutions of the boys. She resigned from several boards and was dropped by her publisher after the May 31 release of the Netflix scripted series.

Fairstein, who led the Manhattan sex crimes unit at the time, has repeatedly defended her office’s handling of the case and accused “When They See Us” director Ava DuVernay of portraying her as an “overzealous prosecutor and a bigot,” which she denied.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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