I'm just going to write out my experience and impressions from the other night's book discussion and signing by former Manhattan ADA Linda Fairstein. I briefly discussed it two posts ago. [Apologies in advance for the lack of links and the length. I am much too lazy to make it concise and shorter.]
I arrived at the 82nd Street Barnes & Noble about 45 minutes early. There were perhaps a half dozen polite protesters in front of the store. They were carrying signs denouncing Fairstein's handling of the Central Park 5 case and would occasionally utter charges about her performance in the case.
Since I had some time, I picked up a few books to peruse until the event began. Just before sitting down in the third row, I overheard a store employee (assistant manager?) telling another that she should rush to the front of the store should protesters interrupt the event.
An older African American male sat in the first row a few minutes before the event began. He had his coat draped on his seat since before I got there. I thought I recognized him and would later realize that he's Yusef Salaam, a reporter for the New York Amsterdam News. He constantly looked to the rear of the appearance area, possibly expecting a late-arriving friend.
Fairstein came out, was briefly introduced and talked about 12 minutes about her current book, the writing process and influences. She than asked for questions from the audience. The very first question came from a middle-aged white male. I was surprised by the question, but later came to believe it was a plant: "Fifteen years ago you were the prosecutor behind the convictions of five young men. Those convictions have been overturned. Do you have any comments about that?"
Given her response and the soft question, I wouldn't be surprised if that man was there solely to lob such a soft question. To paraphrase Fairstein: Just because the convictions were tossed doesn't make the Central Park 5 innocent. There is much more evidence to come, especially with the forthcoming NYPD report on the case and NY City Council hearings. There will be shock when new details and evidence is presented, "but I'm here to talk about my book" blah blah blah.
She tried to twist the facts of the case, as if everyone says/believes the Central Park 5 are innocent of all of the crimes they were once convicted of. It's really a moot point at there is no way that a new, impartial trial can be had. Really, given all of the evidence that's come out since Matias Reyes' confession, there is serious doubt any convictions would have been obtained in the original trials. The NYPD has a vested interest in making the convictions and the perceptions they spawned stick (more on that later) and the City Council hearings will focus on Police brutality and misconduct with an outlook to improve the NYPD in those and other areas. And I'd be shocked if anyone believes the rumors (alluded to by Fairstein, I believe) that Kharey Wise is a muslim leader that forced Reyes to falsely confess to raping Patricia Meili.
A couple more people asked questions and then Salaam asked her, "You mentioned Admiral Perry and how he shamelessly exhibited five Inoit people. Don't you feel you did the same thing with five innocent boys almost fifteen years ago?" (He also expressed doubt the NYPD report would shed light on the case and felt Fairstein should not have been included in Manhattan DA's Robert Morgenthau's report since she -- and the police -- has a conflict of interest and could conceivably face charges for her actions and inactions.)
Fairstein kept her cool, but you could tell that she was visibly upset with the question/statement and its implications. She reiterated her earlier statement about wanting to discuss her book and when Salaam failed to ask her directly about the book, she moved on to the next question.
Not too long afterwards, Sharonne Salaam mother of the Central Park 5's Yusuf Salaam entered the area and sat next to Yusef Salaam. Just before she did I thought Mr. Salaam was motioning for me to join him in the front row. I declined and was surprised that no one appeared to recognize Ms. Salaam. But that changed about ten minutes later when Fairstein interrupted her discussion and whispered something to the woman that apparently ran the event (she lead out and introduced Fairstein and took decisive positions later during the heated exchanges to come). A second store security guard and two undercover police officers soon moved to the front of the reading area and kept looking in the direction of Ms. Salaam.
Then all hell broke loose. Any question by an African American on the case was met with hostility by Fairstein, and increasingly, by white members of the audience. When a Black man spoke loudly about Fairstein framing the Central Park 5 the woman that appeared to run the event (Fairstein's Defender from this point) interrupted him and shouting began between the two opposing factions. Yusef Salaam got up and walked to the protester and screamed that he should be allowed to finish his statement/question with the store manager, Fairstein's defender and many of the white attendees yelling for him to be removed. He was, as well as most of the Black audience members, about half of whom began chanting "Fairstein's got blood on her hands" and other slogans as they exited the store.
Fairstein was visibly shaken and said she wasn't running out because of the protests, but would return shortly. A police office escorted her to a back room while the protestors were surrounded by police and security. After that group was led out, the store manager (CJ?) returned and told Mr. Salaam that he had interrupted the event that and the he was being asked to leave. He at first refused and then shouted that CJ "better not touch [me]!" and then preceded to grab his coat. Whether because I remained calm or did not leave on my own, Salaam pointed in my direction and said (again, paraphrasing) "Black people gotta leave, huh? Everybody but honorary white people like him! All niggers out of the store!"
I shrugged it off (at first) and things became calm again. There was polite whispering between attendees while we waited for Fairstein to return. Before she did, CJ walked from the back room where Fairstein was holed up and told Ms. Salaam, "Miss Salaam, you have standing death threats against Miss Fairstein so I have to ask you to leave."
Salaam was calm, but incredulous. She said CJ was slandering her and that if she was guilty of such, then she should be arrested. She simply left with most of the remaining Black attendees leaving with her. Counting myself, there were maybe four, five African Americans remaining seated, and one began videotaping Salaam's exit (he was taping earlier and directed to stop) and I got off a couple shots with my digital camera. By the point, I had already taken three shots, albeit that last one was with a flash. That caused Fairstein's defender to yell at me and the audience that Barnes and Noble doesn't allow cameras and taping at book signings. News to me. Not that I doubt the policy, but I've never seen it enforced at any B&N and in fact, have seen staff members taking photographs of fans with writers.
Fairstein returned and rambled "You have to understand that people like that, not all of them, but most of them, during the original trial, would call me a Jew bitch. So you understand why I had to leave." While I'll admit that several protestors during the originals trials did yell some mean, nasty, even racist stuff at the prosecutors, Miss Salaam was never a part of that. She has been vocal, even got kicked out of her son's trial, but never has she been racist or nasty. Even though she had every reason to be the latter.
When the discussion part of the event was ending, a Black woman was slated to ask the last question. The audience interrupted her and Fairstein's defender asked Fairstein to pick someone else to ask the last question. Of course she choose a white woman from a group that supports Fairstein. Instead of asking a question, she simply praised Fairstein for supporting her group and demanded that we all praise her for her work with women's groups.
The signing portion began and I walked around listening to conversations, asking questions and talking about the facts of the Central Park 5 case. A Mr. Gilchrist (can't remember his first name right now) of the Gilchrist Experience was in a somewhat heated discussion with a self-described Jew. I mention that last point because it lead to discussions of American civil rights vis-a-vis the relationship between Blacks and Jews, the history of racism here and abroad and even to whether or not Jesus was a rabbi.
Mr. Gilchrist invited me to a future live taping of his show on MNN (public access on Manhattan cable systems) to discuss the case since "[I] know so much about the case." I accepted his invitation and will let all know the details to come.
A reporter for the Village Voice asked me a few questions, so I'll post any article that results from that and a brief convo we had. Just hope that statement I made about Barnes & Noble, Hitler and Mein Kampf is excised should she quote me for the article.
THE WINSTON GILCHRIST EXPERIENCE airs live Tuesdays afternoons (4:30pm) on Channels 34/107. It is a "political, historical, economical discussion of current and past American world events."
Posted by ronn at January 23, 2003 12:58 PM