MWA Withdraws Linda Fairstein Grand Master Award

The pushback against yesterday’s Mystery Writers of America announcement of Linda Fairstein as a 2019 Grand Master has led to cancellation of the award.

Linda Fairstein’s selection was protested by one of last year’s Edgar-winning writers, Attica Locke, who reminded MWA members that while Fairstein was working for the Manhattan District Attorney, her office supervised the prosecution in 1990 of the Central Park Jogger case, which ended in the conviction of five teenagers who were later exonerated of any part in the crime.

Prior to MWA’s action, Fairstein and Locke jousted on Twitter –

Today MWA withdrew the honor — “Mystery Writers of America Withdraws Fairstein Award”:

On Tuesday, November 27, Mystery Writers of America announced the recipients of Grand Master, Raven & Ellery Queen Awards, special awards given out annually. Shortly afterwards, the MWA membership began to express concern over the inclusion of Linda Fairstein as a Grand Master, citing controversy in which she has been involved.

When the MWA Board made its selection, it was unaware of Ms. Fairstein’s role in the controversy.

After profound reflection, the Board has decided that MWA cannot move forward with an award that lacks the support of such a large percentage of our members. Therefore, the Board of Directors has decided to withdraw the Linda Fairstein Grand Master award. We realize that this action will be unsatisfactory to many. We apologize for any pain and disappointment this situation has caused.

MWA will be reevaluating and significantly revising its procedures for selecting honorary awards in the future. We hope our members will all work with us to move forward from this extremely troubling event and continue to build a strong and inclusive organization.

The Los Angeles Times published a piece about the controversy on November 27 by Steph Cha, a novelist, editor and attorney, and a member of Mystery Writers of America since 2013 — “Writer Linda Fairstein’s past as a prosecutor overseeing the Central Park Five case causes award controversy”.

…The Five served six to 13 years in prison before their convictions were vacated following the confession of a serial rapist, confirmed by DNA evidence, in 2002. Fairstein has never apologized or changed her position on their guilt. (Nor has Donald Trump, who in 1989 took out full-page newspaper ads in New York City calling for the return of the death penalty after the teens were arrested.) Only four months ago, in a letter to the editor of the New York Law Journal, Fairstein maintained that the questioning [of the Central Park Five] was respectful, dignified, carried out according to the letter of the law and with sensitivity to the young age of the men.”

… Her presence among us should be the scandal of every conference — it probably would’ve been earlier if there had been more crime writers of color when the Five were exonerated in 2002. But at some point, her background must have become old news, an uncomfortable thing the larger crime world has been happy to ignore. How many of us have been polite to her on accident because the rest of us were polite to her on purpose?

Tacit approval is one thing, of course; the Grand Master Award is another. Mystery Writers of America has made a lot of fuss about diversity over the last few years, and I do believe that the mystery community has made some meaningful strides toward inclusion. But we’re apparently still at a place where the board of Mystery Writers of America thinks calling the white prosecutor who oversaw the conviction of innocent black boys “Grand Masteris a good idea. It’s also worth noting that the Edgar Awards banquet will take place in April, almost exactly 30 years after the Five were wrongfully arrested and imprisoned….

Attica Locke’s comment on MWA’s action was:

Fairstein has not tweeted a response to the withdrawal.

[Thanks to Mark Hepworth and Andrew Porter for the story.]

5 thoughts on “MWA Withdraws Linda Fairstein Grand Master Award

  1. It appears that Fairstein’s theory is that the boys having committed other, far less serious, crimes that night excuses prosecuting them for a crime which horrified the nation but which they were completely innocent of, and continuing to insist on their guilt for that crime, regardless of evidence.

    Because the other crimes wouldn’t horrify people enough?

  2. Dear Lis,

    Ages ago, my sister was with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department, which had a fairly serious problem with corrupt practices. She said most of it sprung from people thinking they were always right, because they were usually right. The “infallible doctor” syndrome. Most of the time, even almost all of the time (for some value of the word “almost”), if one of them thought there was something suspicious going on, they were right.

    When they step over the line from likelihood to certainty, anything becomes justified because they KNOW they’re taking a bad person off the streets. And they stop evaluating, they just trust their gut, because their gut is always right. With all its implicit biases.

    It’s a real common human trait — most of us, if we are right 95% of the time, tend to forget that we’re wrong 5% of the time. Except we’re giving these people the literal power of life and death over us. When someone excuses a cop’s wrong behavior with, “Well, after all, they’re only human,” I react with, “When they have superhuman authority, being only human is NOT good enough!”

    This is exactly the mindset that Fairstein presented in her tweet. She “knows” the Central Park Five were bad actors, so anything she does to get them off the streets is justified. She believed it then and she still believes it now.

    The horrible irony of this is that by deciding to go after five people who she knew weren’t the rapists, she was leaving an unusually monstrous and vicious predator on the streets. She was betraying the cause she built professional life around, stopping sex-violent crime. And she still doesn’t understand that.

    This leaves me with zero sympathy for her. Yes, I can explain her behavior… but an explanation is not an excuse.

    – pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
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