By Contributing Writer Kashima Grant, January 17, 2017
This past semester, I was introduced to THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE. It was a great learning experience to see what can happen when the ethics and moral compasses of the New York City criminal justice system and the mainstream corporate New York City journalism community are thrown out the window.
The documentary also shows what can happen when people do not know their rights.
It tells the story of five youths of color who were wrongly accused of raping and savagely beating a white, female jogger in Central Park. These were high school students, ages 14 to 17 years. They had no prior records, and I felt disgusted watching scenes showing their interrogations by the police and seeing how they were coerced into incriminating each other for crimes that they didn’t create
One of the several important lessons I took from this documentary was acknowledgement forced on me that many New Yorkers don’t understand their rights. The CP5 youths, understandably and like many youths, did not know their legal rights. But neither did their parents whom I don’t want to criticize unfairly about their ignorance but, yet, ignorance of basic rights can be harmful.
The detectives involved in the case acted unethically and unprofessionally and yet to this day are still regarded as champions of law enforcement despite the incredible injustice done to the youths and their families. They didn’t have real evidence about a brutal crime that had been committed so they invented a case against these youth. One has to wonder how often they might have done that in the pass. That also applies to the chief prosecutors of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
The detectives should not have questioned these minors without their parent in the room. They broke the law. And they did it with such aplomb that one has to wonder how often they might have done this before. The detectives should not have coerced statements from the youths. They pushed and deceived them into fictitious statements about themselves and each other. The detectives didn’t tell the suspects what their rights were. They didn’t offer to get them a lawyer, and they didn’t tell them that they could remain silent because everything that they said could be used against them.
While all of this was transpiring, the parents were clueless about what was really going on. I found myself getting extremely pissed off when I saw some of the parents not taking a stand against the detectives. These parents clearly didn’t know their rights because instead of getting lawyers, they allowed themselves to be taken in by the detectives. They did what the detectives asked and stayed out of the interrogation rooms and waited in the lobby.
The same false testimonies that were provided by the youth were the same testimonies that were used to sentence them in court. There was DNA evidence, but this somehow became irrelevant when it came to the bigger picture. The whole case was disappointing, and sad. These young men lost so much of their lives in jail because the system failed them, their parents failed them, and society in general failed them. And the mainstream corporate news media, especially the New York Daily News and the New York Post,which exacerbated things, were complicit in this travesty of justice.
We have a white female, raped and almost beaten to death, and we have five youths of color who were said to be violent and heartless. This case became a media circus and race and racism were the two-headed ringmaster. The cops basically stopped doing their jobs properly once they saw the color of their skin. The media added the necessary fuel to the fire and fanned the flames of sensationalism.
Public sentiment rose to the level that there were calls for the reinstatement of the death penalty for these children. I was even surprised to learn about Donald Trump’s role in this case as well, since he was one of the main supporters for the death penalty. And he continues to day as an outspoken bigot that the CP5 should be in jail.
There’s a possibility that Trump was screaming the loudest for the death penalty because of the negative press about crime in Central Park. Everyone knows that he owns a lot of real estate around the area, and it’s not hard for this writer to imagine that Trump could have been concerned that his property might be experiencing an image problem. Unfortunately, we will never truly know his motivations.
These men lost the opportunity to live their lives to their full potential. They were eventually released from prison and cleared of charges once the real criminal was caught. They should be happy, right? They should be grateful, yes?
How can you be happy and grateful when so many years were taken away from you? How can you be happy and grateful when you spent time behind bars for a crime you never committed? How can you be happy and grateful when the detectives who oversaw your case will never be held accountable?
They will never forget. And neither should I. And neither should you reading this article.
Kashima Grant can be reached at Kashima.Grant26@myhunter.cuny.edu