The lead prosecutor involved in the trial of five young men known as the Central Park Five, whose conviction was later vacated, will no longer teach at Columbia Law School following student demands for her termination.
Elizabeth Lederer is not seeking reappointment from her position as part-time lecturer at the university after a petition was circulated by the Black Students’ Organization, according to a letter to students from the school’s dean.
Lederer is quoted in the letter saying she has enjoyed her time teaching at Columbia Law and interacting with the students.
“However, given the nature of the recent publicity generated by the Netflix portrayal of the Central Park case, it is best for me not to renew my teaching application,” the statement said.
Lederer has come under renewed scrutiny for her role in the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of five teenagers of color in 1990, after a white woman was attacked in Central Park. The latest backlash began in late May after director Ava DuVernay released a Netflix miniseries about the case, “When They See Us.”
The so-called Central Park Five — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam — were vindicated 13 years after the crime when a serial rapist confessed to the attack.
Columbia Law Dean Gillian Lester said in her letter to students that the series “has reignited a painful — and vital — national conversation about race, identity, and criminal justice.”
“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,” Lester said.
Linda Fairstein, who headed Manhattan’s sex crimes unit at the time, has also been at the center of the backlash following DuVernay’s series.
She was dropped by her book publisher and resigned from Vassar College’s board of trustees after the show prompted the #CancelLindaFairstein hashtag on social media and calls for her prior cases to be re-examined.
In an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal, Fairstein condemned the series for its portrayal of her.
“Ms. DuVernay’s film attempts to portray me as an overzealous prosecutor and a bigot, the police as incompetent or worse, and the five suspects as innocent of all charges against them. None of this is true,” she wrote.