Does the 2012 documentary THE CENTRAL PARK FIve have any value as a cautionary tale for today’s ethnic youth? That was part of the challenge put to students in a journalism ethics class because of the ignominious role of the New York City mainstream corporate news media.
By Contributing Writer Lesia Forde
Life is a journey with unexpected twist and turns, mountains and valleys, oasis and deserts, darkness and light, tests and rewards. You may never know what lies ahead, but one thing is certain and that is its uncertainty. Charles R. Swindoll, for this writer, says it best. “Life is 10 percent what happens to you, and 90 percent how you react to it.” William Blackstone also had words of advice: “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”
How would you, dear readers, react to something like the following?
On April 19, 1989, the unexpected happened for five youths of diverse ethnicities and Trisha Meili, a resident of the Upper West Side and a vice president in the corporate finance department and energy group of the Wall Street investment bank Salomon Brothers. Their fates inexorably entwine one evening in Central Park.
That evening, Meili left her home and headed to Central Park for another evening’s jog, and the five youths also made their way to the park from Harlem to delight in some down time compared to their regular routine of hanging out on the corner of the block.
That spring evening the innocent act of jogging met the brutality of the unexpected. Trisha Meili was brutally raped and assaulted and she was found lying unconsciously in the early the morning after the attack had happened. The lost of 80 percent of her blood caused medical speculation that she was not expected to survive, and, according to an article by the Daily News, “She had deep scalp lacerations and skull fractures. Her brain was swollen. Her eye had exploded from its socket. Unconscious and tied up, her body jerked uncontrollably because of massive brain damage. The soles of her feet were the only part of her blood-soaked body not bruised.”
New York City was awash in a financial crisis during the 1970s, and with the surge of crack into poor urban neighborhoods in the early 1980s, the city felt as if it was spiraling uncontrollably into an abyss of despair. The Big Apple at the time was regarded as one of the most racially divided big cities as well as the paradigm of urban racial gang violence in America.
Crack catalyzed “the city’s racial dividing lines in a way no other drug had before,” wrote Annaliese Griffin, a New York Daily News reporter. “Crack transformed the face of drug use, turning it from a fashionable indulgence in cocaine on the part of Wall Street types into a violent inner city plague.”
In the 1980s, while the underclass was still suffering from the remnants of the 1970s financial crisis, and with crack taking a further toll on the black and colored communities, Wall Street ascended as an immense wealth cascaded selectively into the city, widening the wedge between the white upper class citizens and the colored under class.
Many residents of New York lived in fear – and of the colored man. “Fear wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction; it was a matter of self-preservation,” wrote Griffin.
So, in the early hours of April 20, 1989, when Trisha Meili was found lying unconsciously and near death in Central Park, Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam and Antron McCray – at that time all between the ages of 14 and 15 years old – had been detained the night before for ‘unlawful assembly,’ and, without proof or thorough reasoning, had become the leading suspects of the crime.
The police never gave Meili and her family the justice that they rightfully deserved nor the Central Park 5 and their families because NYPD was desperately in search of a culprit. With great sloth and dishonesty, they steered the trajectory of criminal incrimination in the direction of the five youths who were interrogated for more than 24 hours without legal representation nor, especially for the juveniles, the presence of their parents. “The tone was very scary; I felt like they might take us to the back of the precinct and kill us,” said Yusef Salaam in the Central Park Five documentary. When they would not succumb and plead guilty to the crime, the police conjured a plan to frame the them as the perpetrators.
At this point, this writer wants readers to take note of NYPD’s history and tradition of testilying.
The result was fabricated story lines and deceit to trick the youths into making incriminating admissions. After video tapping the confessions, it was reported to the public that police had arrested the culprits who had attacked Meili, and the news media spiraled into a whirlwind frenzy about their latest crime of the century. The public was livid. Wilding was a buzz word added to the lexicon of sensational crimes. All hell broke loose once the public was misled to believe that the attack in the park was a “black on white crime,” Griffin wrote.
Even many people of color fell under that spell.
The trial and the grounds on which the youths were found guilty were, in hindsight and should have been recognized even then, show that justice was denied for both the victim and the alleged assailants There was no proof, no witness, no fingerprints, nothing. The youths were wrongly convicted.
In 2002, Matias Reyes, who had been incarcerated many times for committing abhorrent crimes, including murder and multiple rapes cases, made the city’s travesty of injustice clearer than anyone could have imagined when he confessed to raping and attacking Meili. Reyes semen was found on one of Meili’s socks, and he described in detail how he went about committing the crime. The convictions against the five youths who had transitioned into manhood were dismissed.
Meili eventually awakened from her coma and recovered physically, thankfully, and the youth who had become young men sued the city for a grievous injustice, receiving $41 million in settlement after their released. Nevertheless, the prosecutors and the police officers involved with this travesty continue to this day to insist that the Central Park 5 were guilty.
Lesia Forde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org