Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Central Park Five

In the early hours of April 20, 1989, the body of a woman barely clinging to life was discovered in Central Park. Assaulted and left for dead, the 28-year-old jogger, Trisha Meili, would survive grave injuries and a coma with no memory of the events. Within days of the attack, McCray, 15; Richardson, 14; Salaam, 15; Santana, 14; and Wise, 16, implicated themselves in Meili's rape and beating after hours of psychological pressure and aggressive interrogation at the hands of seasoned homicide detectives.

The police announced to a press hungry for sensational crime stories that the young men had been part of a gang of teenagers who were out "wilding," assaulting joggers and bicyclists in Central Park that evening. The ensuing media frenzy was met with a public outcry for justice. The young men were tried as adults under New York laws of the day — and convicted, despite inconsistent and inaccurate confessions, DNA evidence that excluded them, and no eyewitness accounts that connected them to the victim.

On December 19, 2002, Justice Charles J. Tejada of the Supreme Court of the State of New York granted a motion to vacate the thirteen-year-old convictions in the infamous case. He did so based on new evidence: a shocking confession from a serial rapist, Matias Reyes, and a positive DNA match to back it up. A year later, the men filed civil lawsuits against the City of New York, and the police officers and prosecutors who had worked toward their conviction. That lawsuit remains unresolved. -The Central Park Five (PBS)

When the events of April 20, 1989 took place, I was six-years-old and was living in Oceanside, CA. Needless to say I had no idea any of this was happening. And in 2002, again still in Cali, I vaguely recall hearing little about this situation mentioned in the news.

However, that all changed when I moved to NYC in 2012. Within my first year here I kept hearing “The Central Park Five” mentioned in various conversations and in the media. And because I'm inquisitive, I took the time to Google and get the gist of the story. 

But I didn't really get a full understanding of what exactly happened until I was listening to one of my favorite weekly podcasts, The Combat Jack Show, and their guest was one of the five teens. If you have ever wondered why these teens admitted to committing a crime they didn't do, THIS EPISODE is for you. Raymond Santana (one of the five) gives insight into the mind of a 14-year-old, who thought he would get to go home if he simply told the police what they wanted to hear. 

Raymond's story and the situation as a whole left such an impression on me that seeing the film was a must.

THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE, a new film from award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns, tells the story of the five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in New York City's Central Park in 1989. Directed and produced by Burns, David McMahon and Sarah Burns, the film chronicles the Central Park Jogger case, for the first time from the perspective of the five teenagers whose lives were upended by this miscarriage of justice.

Set against the backdrop of a city beset by violence and facing deepening rifts between races and classes, THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE intertwines the stories of these five young men, the victim, police officers and prosecutors, and Matias Reyes, unraveling the forces behind the wrongful convictions. The film illuminates how law enforcement, social institutions, and media undermined the very rights of the individuals they were designed to safeguard and protect.
"This tragedy reminds us how much we struggle to come to terms with America's original sin, which is race," said Ken Burns. "One only need to look at the history books to understand that, unfortunately, the Central Park Five are not unique in American history."
"This case is a lens through which we can understand the on-going fault-line of race in America," said Sarah Burns, who also wrote The Central Park Five: A Chronicle of a City Wilding, (Knopf, 2011). "These young men were convicted long before the trial, by a city blinded by fear and, equally, freighted by race. They were convicted because it was all too easy for people to see them as violent criminals simply because of the color of their skin."
"Ultimately The Central Park Five is about human dignity," said David McMahon. "It is about five young men who lose their youth but maintain their dignity in the face of a horrific and unimaginable situation."- The Central Park Five (PBS)

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