Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Case Against Linda Fairstein, w/ Nick Kolakowski

David Nemeth hit me up this morning with something brilliant from New York writer Nick Kolakowski, who clarifies mystery writing's intersection with one of the most tragic failures of the American system of justice. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, North American Review, and Carrier Pigeon.

Please add his erudite take to Attica Locke's call for honesty about the world we inhabit and the damage prestige and celebrity brings when it isn't balanced with the needs and concerns of our organization's constituency. My own clarion call appears after his fine work.


Members of the Central Park Five, left to right - Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, and Raymond Santana (2012) Photograph by Maysles Documentary Center (CC BY-NC-SA)

Earlier this week, the Mystery Writers of America named Linda Fairstein as one of its Grand Masters for the 2019 awards ceremony. Attica Locke, author of the excellent “Bluebird, Bluebird,” unspooled a Tweet thread that questioned the organization’s decision. “I am begging you to reconsider having Linda Fairstein serve as a Grand Master,” she wrote. “She is almost singlehandedly responsible for the wrongful incarceration of the Central Park Five.”

In addition, Locke added, “[Fairstein] has never apologized or recanted her insistence on their guilt for the most heinous of crimes, ‘guilt’ based solely on evidence procured through violence and ill treatment of children in lockup.”

Here’s the whole thread for your reading pleasure:

When those young men were released, District Attorney Robert Morgenthau’s office questioned the confessions that sent them to jail in the first place. “In many other respects the defendants' statements were not corroborated by, consistent with, or explanatory of objective, independent evidence,” read a statement issued by the office. “And some of what they said was simply contrary to established fact.” [Emphasis Danny Gardner]

Fairstein oversaw the sex-crimes unit of the DA’s office during the case, and she’s insisted over the years that she did everything by the book. “I don't think there is a question in the minds of anyone present during the interrogation process that these five men were participants,” she told The New Yorker in 2002, an assertion vigorously contested by the Central Park Five’s attorneys. (The Village Voice has a lengthy rundown of the whole case, including the original rush to convict.) Although the crime took place nearly thirty years ago, “Central Park Five” has evolved into the shorthand of sorts for overzealous prosecutors railroading suspects.

And that’s not all, as the late-night infomercials say. Years later, Fairstein reportedly helped out Harvey Weinstein’s legal and PR team when the heat began to build over his alleged sex crimes. In an interview with NPR, New York Times reporter Megan Twohey (who co-authored a piece describing Weinstein’s decades of sexual misconduct) stated:

“And it's interesting to see in that situation there was a whole team that swooped in to help Harvey fight that in a counterattack effort. There were private investigators who were dispatched to basically dig up dirt on her. There were stories planted in the tabloids to basically disparage her background. There were high-profile attorneys who stepped up to Harvey's side, including Linda Fairstein, the former sex crimes prosecutor here in Manhattan, who was willing to facilitate introductions to the current sex crimes prosecutor who was handling the case. And within weeks that case was dead.” [Emphasis mine]

Fairstein has pushed back against insinuations of deep involvement in the case, telling the New York Post that “she was never hired by Weinstein and that her only action was making one phone call for long-time pal Abramowitz [a Weinstein attorney], introducing him to Bashford [head of the DA’s Sex Crimes Unit].” (Which aligns with what Twohey said if you parse her NPR statement carefully.)

Safe to say that the Mystery Writers of America fell face-first into a minefield with this one; if you’re not bothered by the “wrongful incarceration” part (and you should be), we have the furor around Weinstein and #MeToo just to make things extra explode-y. I imagine it’d be hard for her to remain Grand Master, and speak about crime and punishment to a room full of crime-fiction writers when a portion of the audience believes that she participated in a miscarriage of justice. And just in case you thought Fairstein was going stay silent, she fired back at Locke on Twitter, basically by accusing the Central Park Five of other crimes:
I bet whatever committee that decides the Edgar Awards is swigging whiskey straight from the bottle at this point. As John McClane said: Welcome to the party, pal!

Thank you, Nick.

Danny's Take:

With her berating of the concerned on Twitter, Fairstein has proven resolute in her views, which marginalize African Americans and are aberrant in the current zeitgeist. It is clear whatever forces saw fit to name her Grand Master are not in accord with the change that was signaled by Attica Locke's win, which she should be enjoying, rather than investing as capital in the fight for crime-mystery-thriller to look more like America.

This is a show-stopping mistake.

The Mystery Writers of America is dangerously in need of new leadership. We authors require leadership that can build upon Attica's glory, which was supplanted by a straw-man argument from a woman proven to be hostile to the African American community. It is my opinion Ms. Fairstein has disqualified herself by failing to stand up for her work and, instead, tried muck-raking with a current Edgar winner. This decision must not stand, and those responsible for it must move on from leadership for the good of mystery writing's future.

Danny Gardner

No comments: