We just returned from a terrific screening at the Independent Film Festival Boston.
Yusef Salaam, our father’s wrongfully convicted Central Park Jogger client, and three of his children, Rain, Winter, and Poetry, made the trip out to Boston with us. Yusef joined us in a spirited Q & A following the screening while his girls handed out film buttons to everyone who attended the screening.
Yusef spoke very openly about what it was like to grow up in prison and the difficult transition after his release. April 16th was the 20th anniversary of the Central Park Jogger rape and Yusef found himself back in the news again. The New York Daily News ran an article about the anniversary and mistakenly identified a photo of Yusef as Matias Reyes, the real perpetrator of the Central Park attack
Yusef told the audience at the Brattle Theatre how one of his young daughters called him and said “Daddy, we heard them lying about you on the radio today,” making it clear that Yusef and his family are still dealing with the realities of his wrongful conviction and incarceration and a news media that refuses to learn from its past mistakes. Many of you will remember how Yusef was vilified in the media before the case went to trial.
While working on Yusef’s case, Bill came close to losing his license to practice law when he called Judge Gallagan “a disgrace to bench” after the judge refused to hear Bill’s argument about how Yusef, at fifteen years old, was interrogated without the presence of his mother, which is illegal under New York law.
Bill was held in contempt and faced a bar association disciplinary hearing to determine how he should be punished. Bill loved the hearing, which was aired live on Court TV. Many came forward to testify in his favor. “Now I know what people are going to say about me at my funeral,” he joked when the proceedings were over.
In Boston, we were joined by our associate producer, Tracy Bunting, as well as Sarah’s 7-week-old son, William Atticus Ferguson Kunstler. Our cousins Carol, Ali, and Jocie Sher attended the screening and saw the film for the first time. Some of Ali and Jocie’s memories of Bill will be available to watch on our upcoming Youtube Channel.
When we checked into the Liberty Hotel (a festival sponsor), a well-meaning hotel employee approached one of Yusef’s daughters and swung her around saying, “You’re in Jail! We put kids in jail here. We’re going to lock you up and throw away the key.” We were confused and horrified until Yusef noticed that the hotel was jail-themed. The hotel bar was called “The Clink,” the courtyard was simply call the “The Yard,” and when we got to our rooms there were cards hanging from the doorknobs that read simply “Solitary.”
On the hotel’s internal television station, we watched a short documentary about the history of the building. Early in the program the narrator explains that “this magnificent showplace is the result of a five-year, 150-million dollar transformation, but as you sit in the hotel’s spacious lobby enjoying a cocktail and conversation, you may find it difficult to imagine the liberty hotel’s ‘arresting’ history. For 139 years, this was the site of Boston’s infamous Charles Street Jail. Its residents ranged from small-time criminals to notorious gangsters – legend has it that famed anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti did time here, as did Nation of Islam Leader Malcolm X . . . ”
It did not go unnoticed that the first examples given of “small time criminals to notorious gangsters” were three of my father’s heroes.
You can watch an excerpt of the hotel’s documentary here.