After Watching 'When They See Us,' Pick Up These 10 Books To Help You Better Understand The Central Park 5 Case

Last week, the release of Ava DuVernay's When They See Us took the U.S. by storm, reigniting conversations about race and the criminal justice system. If you've watched When They See Us and have lingering questions, I've put together a list of 10 books to help you understand the Central Park Five case.

Also known as the Central Park jogger case, the case of the Central Park Five began in the spring of 1989, when a then-anonymous white woman, later identified as Trisha Meili, was found brutally beaten and raped in New York City. Five teenagers — four black, one Hispanic — who had been in Central Park that night were brought in for questioning. The boys confessed under duress to having some involvement in the crime, and, although they recanted those confessions, the Central Park Five were later charged and falsely convicted. There was no physical evidence of their alleged involvement.

Each of the Central Park Five remained imprisoned for six to 13 years, and their names were only cleared in 2002, when a serial rapist named Matias Reyes confessed to attacking Meili in 1989. DNA evidence supported Reyes's confession to the crime. In spite of the fact that the case's prosecutor, Linda Fairstein, "bullied and stalled and blocked the mother and two friends of one suspect, Yusef Salaam, from gaining access to him," according to The Village Voice, she told the newspaper in 2002 that she "[didn't] think there was any rush to judgment." Fairstein's handling of the case, as shown in When They See Us, has prompted backlash from the public, resulting in the loss of her literary awards and advisory postions.

The 10 books on the list below focus on both the Central Park Five case in particular, as well as racial injustices within the justice system in general. Check out the books I've picked out to help you understand the Central Park Five case below, and share your most eye-opening reads with me on Twitter!

'The Central Park Five: The Untold Story Behind One of New York City's Most Infamous Crimes' by Sarah Burns

A #1 bestseller on Amazon at the time of this writing, Sarah Burns' The Central Park Five lays out the details of the case, focusing on how the justice system failed the boys it charged with such a heinous crime.

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'Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America' by Ibram X. Kendi

A National Book Award winner, Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning examines the ways in which anti-black racism have shaped American life since the colonial era.

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'Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United State' by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva

Exploring the ways in which so-called colorblindness strengthens and enforces white supremacy, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva's Racism Without Racists is a must-read.

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'The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness' by Michelle Alexander

First published in 2010, with a new, 10th-anniversary edition headed to stores in 2020, Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow argues for criminal justice reform by exposing the use of mass incarceration as a method of maintaining a race-based caste system in the U.S.

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'Stories of Scottsboro' by James Goodman

In 1931, nine African-American teenagers were falsely accused of raping two white women on a train to Chattanooga, Tennessee. In spite of all evidence to the contrary, the "Scottsboro Boys" were convicted in a landmark case that led to the racial integration of juries. All nine defendants were eventually paroled, and were posthumously pardoned in 2013.

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'At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance — A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power' by Danielle L. McGuire

A microhistory of the Recy Taylor case, which broadens to examine the justice system's failings with regard to sexual violence against black women, Danielle L. McGuire's At the Dark End of the Street charts the history of Rosa Parks's activism in the decade before the Civil Rights Act.

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'We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy' by Ta-Nehisi Coates

As hate crimes rise and membership in hate groups soars, Ta-Nehisi Coates's unflinching look at how white supremacy responded to Barack Obama's two-term presidency is indispensible today.

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'Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America' by Mamie Till-Mobley

In 1955, Mamie Till-Mobley's teenage son, Emmett Till, was kidnapped and lynched while visiting relatives in Mississippi, after a white woman falsely accused him of whistling at her. In Death of Innocence, Till-Mobley tells the story of her son's death, and of her actions in its aftermath.

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'The Presumption of Guilt: The Arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Race, Class and Crime in America' by Charles Ogletree

In 2009, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested after a 911 caller reported that he was breaking into his own home. The Presumption of Guilt analyzes the arrest and surrounding factors of racial bias in law enforcement.

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'Are Prisons Obsolete?' by Angela Y. Davis

Civil rights activist Angela Y. Davis calls for the eradication of the prison system in this radical treatise on criminal justice reform, which explores the history of policing and incarceration in the U.S.

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