Who Is Linda Fairstein? The 'Central Park Five' Prosecutor in Netflix Series 'When They See Us'

Ava Duvernay's new Netflix series When They See Us has received critical acclaim since premiering on the streaming platform on May 31. The four-part miniseries is based on the infamous Central Park jogger case where five black teenagers were wrongfully convicted of the rape and assault of 28-year-old Trisha Meili in New York City's Central Park in 1989.

And one particular figure being discussed online is Linda Fairstein, one of the prosecutors of the case who was reportedly instrumental in gaining false confessions from the five under duress.

Played by Felicity Huffman in the series, Assistant District Attorney Fairstein was then head of the sex crimes unit in the Manhattan D.A.'s office when she took on the case against the five young boys: Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise.

She oversaw the interrogation of the group dubbed "The Central Park Five" and was reportedly personally involved in securing the confessions that formed the prosecution's entire case. It was these coerced confessions that saw the five convicted and ending up serving between six and 13 years in prison before they were later exonerated when the DNA of serial rapist Matias Reyes matched the attack and he confessed to the crime.

Linda Fairstein When They See Us
Linda Fairstein attends Safe Horizon's 2014 Champion Awards at Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers on April 30, 2014 in New York City. Getty/Noam Galai

In 2003 the five sued New York City for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination, and emotional distress, with the case being settled for $41 million in 2014.

Despite this, Linda Fairstein has refused to apologize for her actions and still maintains that the five men are guilty, telling the New Yorker in 2002 that the confessions took place in "a much more friendly atmosphere, not the bare interrogation rooms," and that despite the five's convictions being vacated, "I think [Matias] Reyes ran with that pack of kids." Writing for the New York Law Journal last year, she maintained that "the questioning [of the Central Park Five] was respectful, dignified, carried out according to the letter of the law and with sensitivity to the young age of the men."

After leaving the D.A.'s office in 2002, Fairstein embarked on a new career as a crime novelist, writing a number of books featuring fictional Manhattan prosecutor Alexandra Cooper based on her time in the legal profession.

In 2018, the Mystery Writers of America planned to honor Fairstein with a Grand Master Award, a prestigious prize previously given to novelists such as Stephen King, Walter Mosley and Agatha Christie. But after a furious backlash online the Mystery Writers of America decided to withdraw her award.

Now, in the wake of the new Netflix series, a number of people online are calling on retailers and publishers to stop selling Fairstein's books, using the hashtag #cancellindafairstein.

One Instagram user posted, "Linda Fairstein went on to become a successful author after she coerced and convicted 5 innocent boys of a crime they did not commit. These boys sat in prison and lost their youth inside of a broken system! Call your local book stores and ask to remove this woman's books off the shelves!"

One Twitter user wrote: "Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and any small business bookstore— PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE boycott Linda Fairstein. A soulless and vicious human being like her shouldn't reap benefits from the pain she inflicts on others" while another post stated, "I really can't think of anything more evil than a prosecutor gleefully writing their own fan fiction, while feeding black men like logs into the fire that is the U.S. prison system."

I really can’t think of anything more evil than a prosecutor gleefully writing their own fan fiction, while feeding black men like logs into the fire that is the U.S. prison system.

I really should break my own rules and @ her.

But, I’m going to keep my energy clean. pic.twitter.com/kQsjZlKXJL

— kyle a.b. (@kyalbr) May 31, 2019

The boycott has attracted the support of one of the five men wrongfully convicted, with Raymond Santana telling TMZ, "Even if it's 30 years later, she has to pay for her crime."