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When They See Us: the Effect of Trauma on Juveniles and Their Families

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In the first episode of when they see us, we can see Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Antron Mcray, Yusef Salaam and Raymond Santana as everyday ordinary teenagers. It is a sad case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time when they each join a group of kids partying and headed to Central Park. The part somehow gets out of control and the police arrive, they all start to run away but a few of them, including Kevin and Raymond, end up being arrested. Detective Linda Fairstein arrives at the scene of a crime; a female jogger has been brutally raped and almost beaten to death. Linda decides that the kids weren’t witnesses to the rape after all but suspects who were “Wilding” they do have a hand in what happened. Race is immediately a compound factor for the crime that is committed. 

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These boys were not seen as teenagers being teenagers who can get rowdy, they were immediately assumed to be savages for “wilding.” This foreshadows as Kevin, who was the youngest of the group is assaulted by a police officer who called him an “animal.” Social class is also an important factor that is significant in the treatment of these teens. Around the time that the incident took place, there was a call for a war on drugs. Drugs were predominant in communities of color that were poor, and this made people of color victims of injustices by the police; discrimination and biases written into law policies with no thought of its consequences. The brutal rape of the woman who was white at the time the park was filled with people of color presented the opportunity for a scape goat. 

The justice system fails these boys simply because of their color. Even though the evidence from the investigation acquitted them from the crime, they were coerced and abused into admitting to a crime they never committed. A narrative they were told would keep them out of jail. The worst part was that they arrested Korey as part of the investigation when he was not on their list of suspects. As the story progresses, we also learn that even though Korey signed a written confession, he cannot read. Another sad reality of how social class is played out. People of color tend to be placed in failing schools for schools that lack the proper resources for the children to thrive. Therefore, communities of color have students who are illiterate or inadequately educated. The media also influenced the idea of using a scapegoat. This brutal crime is committed to someone and not just anyone, a white woman; they demanded justice. This escalated the political injustices towards people of color and as the title suggests, it comes down to how they are viewed in society. They were Savages that went wilding, leaving a white woman close to death. They were stripped of their human traits and resorted to being animals.

By episode two, we’re shown actual footage of Trump saying how he hates the people who did this and how he will fight to bring back the death penalty. He paid $85,000 for an ad to be placed that stated, “bring back the death penalty, bring back policing.” I view this a form of lynching minus the noose. This ad exasperates the injustices that is faced by people of color; those that are falsely accused and heavy charges that are implemented for petty crimes. Though it was not seen in the movie, there are people of color who has been victims of police brutality, women of color subjected to violent rape but never made headlines because of the construct that is associated with being colored. 

The media preys on the biases of discrimination and racism, the fear that is implemented by the construct that people of color are dangerous and deserves to be treated inhumanely. Episode two started off with a reporter stating “they were coming downtown from a world of crack, welfare, guns, knives, indifference and ignorance. They were coming from a land of no fathers. They were coming from the wild province of the poor and driven by a collective fury brimming with the rippling energies of youth, with their minds teeming with the violent images of the streets in the movies. They had only one goal: to smash, hurt, rob, stomp, rape.” These are the words that is used describe people of color, these words used to determine the social construct for people of color. During the trial we can see the inconsistencies with investigators, yet no justice was done on behalf of these children to investigate. The judge, jury and prosecutors were so focused on finding the boys guilty, they disregarded the truth. It is said that justice is blind to be impartial and objective. There has been calls for justice by the media but throughout the series we see that justice was only impartial for the white woman. Then it goes back to social class because we saw Lederer discussing the lawyers that the children had to defend them. They are from a poor background; therefore, they could not afford lawyers who has expertise with cases like these. They could only gather a divorce lawyer, an activist, an ex-cop etc.

Part three focuses on the aftermath of the trial, their lives behind bars and how they adjust to life after prison. Raymond is having trouble finding a job and doesn’t feel welcome in his home. He ends up having a confrontation with his new stepmom, who calls him a rapist. Yusef would like to go back to school to be a teacher but because he is a convicted felon, he will not be able to. Antron returns home and struggles with the relationship he should have with his father because he’s angry that his was had left him and his mom. Korey still serving a sentence is assumed to be having a rough time in maximum prison. What the boys have ben through severely affects their family dynamics and little or nothing is done to address the dysfunction. Sherrone who is Yusef’s mom, was fired from her and is having a hard time finding job therefore had to rely on public assistance. The boys were sent to the respective institutions at a young age therefore there little or no form schooling. No job training or experience in which case forced Raymond to turn to a life of crime. Post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression are commonly associated with this social injustice. These can require mental health care to overcome, but with lack of income, social support and other financial difficulties, this can be difficult and, in a lot of cases, impossible to obtain. Mainly focuses on Korey’s life in prison. His story is probably one of the more tragic ones too given that, as well as not being guilty, he wasn’t even on the list of suspects, he only wanted to support his friend Yusef.

When They See Us is a narrative showing how minorities are often ill-equipped to deal with the criminal justice system, from lack of knowledge about the law, to lack of access to legal representation. It depicts the notion of how people of color are at a disadvantage in access to resources and privilege. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws set minimum sentences for certain crimes that judges cannot lower, even for extenuating circumstances. The most common of these laws deal with drug offenses and set mandatory minimum sentences for possession of a drug over a certain amount. In the case of Raymond, this policy can affect him. prosecutors are twice as likely to pursue a mandatory minimum sentence for black people as for white people charged with the same offense. 

Another that is important is how trauma can affect both the families that the boys. Their experiences can be traumatic and therefore relates to the Trauma-Informed Care for Children and Families Act; To address the psychological, developmental, social, and emotional needs of children, youth, and families who have experienced trauma, and for other purposes. According to Bowen, Trauma-informed care is conceptualized as an organizational change process centered on principles intended to promote healing and reduce the risk of re-traumatization for vulnerable individuals. This type of service could have been helpful for the families in learning how to cope as well open a window for other social services. In the case of Sharrone where she is fired from her job, and turned to Public assistance. She was unsuccessful in obtaining a job because of the fat that she is Korey’s mother. Even tough public assistance offered some help, it can be understood from context that it was not sufficient. The story is disheartening of the destruction of social citizenship for families and the incarcerated, the disruption of family dynamics and the injustice simultaneous to people of color.

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