Elizabeth Lederer, the former prosecutor in the Central Park 5 case, has resigned from a part-time lecturing position at Columbia Law School, citing the renewed level of interest in the 1989 trial following Ava Duvernay’s Netflix mini-series When They See Us.
The news came Wednesday night, in an email sent to students from the law school dean, Gillian Lester, the New York Times reported. Lester wrote that the miniseries had “reignited a painful—and vital—national conversation about race, identity, and criminal justice.” In a statement, Lederer wrote that she’d decided not to renew her teaching application “[g]iven the nature of the recent publicity generated by the Netflix portrayal of the Central Park case.”
But it wasn’t just media attention that led to Lederer’s resignation. The Black Law Students Association had specifically called not just for Lederer’s departure, but also for the powers that be at Columbia Law to acknowledge how the legal system itself was at fault in the wrongful conviction of five teenage boys in 1989:
Lederer is not the first prosecutor to send innocent Black and Latinx children to prison, nor will she be the last. Rather, the legal system as a whole, including legal education, endorses a carceral state that devalues the lives of Black and Brown people.
Columbia Law School should fire Elizabeth Lederer, but that is just a start. The School must do more because letting one professor go does not improve the lives of Black and Latinx law students, nor does it improve the learning experience of students of color at Columbia Law School. It does nothing to rectify the harms inflicted upon Santana, Richardson, McCray, Salaam, or Wise. Furthermore, it does nothing to ensure the pedagogy that created prosecutors like Elizabeth Lederer does not create another. If Columbia Law School wants to show that they care about Black and Brown law students then the school needs to address the racism inherent in how the law is taught.
According to the Times, in addition to her lecturing job at Columbia, Lederer is also currently a prosecutor for the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
Lederer’s resignation from Columbia follows Linda Fairstein, a former prosecutor in the Central Park 5 case, stepping down from the board of Safe Haven, an organization that provides victim services. However, Lederer is thus far having less of a public meltdown over her decision to resign. Fairstein’s latest move was to write an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal decrying DuVernay’s portrayal of the trial; in it, as the New York Times pointed out, she got some key facts about the case wrong.