Former prosecutor Linda Fairstein has resigned from at least two boards in the wake of the reignited backlash she’s received for her role overseeing the so-called Central Park Five case decades ago.
Fairstein, who has written over 20 mystery novels since the mid-1990s, has resigned from the board of nonprofit organization Safe Horizon and from the board of her alma mater, Vassar College, according to announcements made on Tuesday.
Safe Horizon, an organization that provides support to victims of violence, released a statement on Tuesday announcing Fairstein’s decision to resign. The statement comes days after people on social media have urged the organization to sever ties with Fairstein.
“After careful consideration, Linda Fairstein has made the difficult decision to resign from the Safe Horizon Board of Directors,” the statement read in part. “We thank her for her decades of pioneering work on behalf of victims of sexual assault and abuse.”
Elizabeth H. Bradley, president of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, announced Fairstein’s resignation in a letter to the institution’s community on Tuesday.
“I have just learned from the Chair of the Board of Trustees that Linda Fairstein has resigned from the Board, as of today,” she wrote. “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.”
Bradley added that 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.”
Indeed, the recent release of Ava DuVernay’s stunning four-part Netflix series, “When They See Us,” has notably continued the growing conversations in the media about how systemic racism in the criminal justice system affects young black and Latinx boys and girls.
The limited scripted series spotlights the lives of five black and Latino teenagers, now-men, Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam and Antron McCray, who were wrongly convicted of raping a white 28-year-old female jogger in New York City’s Central Park in 1989.
The teenagers, known as the Central Park Five, each spent years behind bars before their convictions were vacated in 2002, after conclusive DNA evidence and a confession linked serial rapist and murderer Matias Reyes to the crime.
Fairstein, who was the chief Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor at the time the five boys were prosecuted, has come under fire on social media after her role in the case was portrayed in “When They See Us,” which hit the streaming service on May 31.
As the series shows, the former prosecutor didn’t personally try the case in court but, according to the Associated Press, she observed the boys’ 1989 interrogations. The teenagers, aged 14 to 16, later maintained they were coerced into giving false confessions – which were laced with inconsistencies – through scare tactics, threats and psychological manipulation.
Fairstein, who went on to write mystery novels dating back as early as 1996, told the New York Post on Tuesday that she additionally sent letters of resignation to boards of other organizations due to the “mob-mentality reaction” to the Netflix series.
“Each of these organizations does great work,” she said. “It’s so foolish of the bullies to punish the charities. Totally pig-headed and stupid.”
Fairstein has previously faced backlash for her role in the Central Park Five case. Last year, the Mystery Writers of America withdrew her “Grand Master” award after facing criticism online. Over the years, Fairstein has repeatedly denied that the teens were coerced and has defended the handling of the prosecution.
A Change.org petition was created earlier this week calling for retailers and publishers to pull Fairstein’s books, and to sever ties with the former prosecutor. The petition garnered over 80,000 signatures by Wednesday.