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When they see Kyle Kashuv, Americans see a boy. They see someone deserving of grace and time to grow. They see a survivor of the Parkland shooting.

So when the 18-year-old turned to Twitter on Monday to share that Harvard College rescinded his admission because of racist comments he made when he was 16, they saw a raw deal.

Kashuv himself felt that because Harvard’s alumni include slave owners and the like, he, too, deserved a chance. Because he apologized. And he believes two years was a long time ago.

Back when he was 16 and saw the words “niggerjock” and “nigger” as ways to be shocking. Before he had a public platform and might get caught. When he was “younger.”


When they saw Korey Wise, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Kevin Richardson in 1989, Americans didn’t see children. They saw black and brown men. They saw the very words Kashuv so excitedly tossed around in the safety of his whiteness and the privilege of forgiveness.

When America saw these black and brown kids, between the ages of 14 and 16, they saw wolves.

With no evidence and coerced confessions, Americans found them guilty before the courts did.

When they were accused of beating and raping a woman who was jogging through Central Park in 1989, DNA in semen found on a sock near the scene did not match any of the defendants.

It didn’t matter. America saw black and brown boys and decided they raped that white woman. The media did not question the inconsistencies. They declared them The Central Park Five.

President Trump saw execution. He spent some $85,000 on full-page ads to bring back the death penalty.

Richardson, McCray, Salaam, Santana, and Wise were brutalized and incarcerated for five and a half to 12 years for a crime they did not commit.


Yusef Salaam is escorted by police in 1989.
Yusef Salaam is escorted by police in 1989.Courtesy of Daily News/Getty Images/file

Exonerated by DNA evidence and a confession from the actual perpetrator in 2002, this was not as simple as rescinding an admission. Childhoods were stolen. Their minds, bodies, and spirits terrorized. You can’t take that back. Your second chance is forever tainted.

In 2014, New York City gave the five men a $41 million wrongful-conviction payout. Trump saw a disgrace. “These young men do not exactly have the pasts of angels,” he wrote in a New York Daily News op-ed.

Thirty years after their names first made headlines, the story of Richardson, McCray, Salaam, Santana, and Wise is told through Ava DuVernay’s Netflix docudrama, “When They See Us.”

Actor LeVar Burton said the series was as essential to the understanding of America as the 1977 historic series he starred in, “Roots.”

Since it debuted May 31, the show has been the most-watched series in America on Netflix. The series is a reminder of not just the broken system of the past, but how dysfunctional justice remains for black and brown people.

Director Ava DuVernay (center) with the Central Park 5: From left, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Korey Wise, Antron McCray and Yusef Salaam, attended the world premiere of "When They See Us," at the Apollo Theater in New York.
Director Ava DuVernay (center) with the Central Park 5: From left, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Korey Wise, Antron McCray and Yusef Salaam, attended the world premiere of "When They See Us," at the Apollo Theater in New York. Donald Traill/Invision viaAP/file/Invision/AP

Even now, Trump believes he owes no apologies for taking out those ads. He sees guilty men.

When Americans see us, they see people to fear. They deem it justifiable for police to shoot 12-year-old Tamir Rice playing with a toy gun, killing him on sight.

They deem it unfair to revoke 18-year-old Kashuv’s admission to Harvard. Police will justify pointing a gun at black parents and threatening to shoot them — the mama pregnant and holding one of her children — last month with allegations of a stolen doll and underwear. But, you know, the police chief and mayor apologized. Just like Kashuv apologized for his racist language.


Tuesday, the day before Juneteenth, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said he didn’t want reparations. He said, “We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We elected an African-American president.”

When McConnell saw President Obama, he did not see the best candidate for the job. He saw a slavery Band-Aid. Just like when the FBI saw Black Lives Matter, they saw an extremist threat.

It took US Representative Ayanna Pressley pushing back on the legitimacy of these claims last month for the FBI to admit there is no threat and not a single murder tied to the movement.

The arguments for Kashuv to be admitted to Harvard keep coming back to his youth, forgiveness, and the fact that he is a survivor. Black children are surviving oppression every day in a country where the average black family has a tenth of the wealth of a white one.

Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and LaQuan McDonald were children. Their youth did not save them. They got bullets, not forgiveness, or chances.


Little black boys are adultified and seen as less innocent starting at the age of 10. For little black girls, it can start as young as 5, according to a 2017 Georgetown Law report.

But Kashuv was just 16 when he used racist slurs. He might be sorry and no longer uses those terms. Maybe he truly has grown. Perhaps he is sorry he got caught. Either way, he’s alive to tell the story. His consequence is not going to the school of his choice.

He isn’t banned from higher education. Even now, when people see him, they see a survivor. Even if they agree with his punishment, they see a kid, and someone who deserves a chance.

The same cannot be said for black people in America, even when they are proven innocent.

Look at The Central Park Five, the exonerated five: Richardson, McCray, Salaam, Santana, and Wise.

The president of the United States is still implying they are guilty. Exoneration has not set them free from the hauntings of this case. Blackness is forever.

“When They See Us” is the most important piece of television made this era because to watch it is to witness not just the story of The Central Park Five. “When They See Us” is the story of blackness in America.

For us, this injustice isn’t a blip that happened two years ago when Kashuv typed the word nigger. It’s not one horror that happened 30 years ago to five black and brown boys in New York.


The criminalization of blackness is standard American practice.

When they see us, we don’t get grace. Our humanity is secondary to our black skin. Apologies don’t save our lives. Sorry, they aren’t sorry.

Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sincerelyjenee.