By Keilah Joyner
Imagine having spent between six and 13 years confined to jail cells for crimes you did not commit? In a country that professes to provide justice and equality for all, the ultimate miscarriage of justice occurred in 1989.
“The Central Park Five” is a riveting documentary that examines the 1989 case of one Latino and four black boys wrongly accused and convicted of raping a white woman in Central Park.
Created, directed, and produced by Ken Burns, David McMahon and Sarah Burns, “The Central Park Five” aims to reveal the truth behind the case that shook the nation by surprise from 1989 until now.
On the evening of April 19, 1989, Trisha Meili, 28, went for a jog in New York’s Central Park. Nearly four hours later, she was found beaten, raped, and bounded.
Antron McCray, 15, Kevin Richardson, 14, Raymond Santana, 14, Kharey Wise, 15, and Yusef Salaam, 15, were in the same park that night, the teenagers acknowledged to police.
During the period of rising crime rates and racial tension, New York City Police Department was under pressure solve the high-profile sex crime, even if that meant arresting five teenage boys for the major felony.
Once arrested and transported to the police station, the boys were pressured during police interrogations to implicate one another in the crime. Later all the boys except Yusef Salaam were charged with the crime.
The New York Daily News covered the maximum sentencing hearing.
“Sooner or later the truth will come out,” said Salaam. “Time can never contain a black man as long as he knows he was convicted falsely.”
Yusef Salaam words came into fruition in 2002. That year, Matias Reyes, a male convict, confessed to beating and raping the Wall Street executive.
In 2002, the convictions of four of the five boys, now men, were dismissed, but the damage has long been done.
The night of the Central Park rape changed the lives of McCray, Richardson, Santana, Wise, and Salaam forever.
“The Central Park Five” documents the crime, whereabouts, and how the men are attempting to cope in a country that prides itself on justice that served them a great injustice.
The April 11 20-minute screening of “The Central Park Five” at Hampton University shows how 24 years later the case still captures the attention and questions of many people.
“A lot of people did not do their jobs,” said New York Times reporter Jim Dwyer on camera. “The police, reporters, and lawyers failed.”
Today, civil unrest and crime rates declined significantly in New York City. “We are evolving, but there are still some things that are going to shock our senses,” said HU Assistant Professor Wayne Dawkins during a panel discussion after the screening.
Justice should not be limited to those who are of one race and one stature. The Central Park Five is just one of the documented cases of where our justice system has failed.
The men falsely accused of raping Trisha Meili are filing a lawsuit against New York City.
“The Central Park Five” can be viewed in its entirety on April 16 on PBS stations.
The writer is a student in the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications
‘Central Park Five’ trailer: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2380247/
New York Daily News coverage of the sentencing: http://www.nydailynews.com/services/central-park-five/central-park-attackers-sentenced-max-article-1.1304884