If It Happened to Them, Could It Happen to You?

By Contributing Writer Avid Maldonado

“I’m one of the Central Park Five. Donald Trump won’t leave me alone.” So wrote Yusef Salaam in a Washington Post article published before the November 8 presidential election. Has Contributing Writer Avid Maldonado, reviewing the documentary about the Central Park Five, penned a cautionary tale about what could lie ahead after January 20, 2017, the Presidential Inauguration.

 

On April 19, 1989, a myriad of youthful males went to Central Park for a night of fun. Five did not know that their lives would be changed forever.

Antron McCray, Raymond Santana Jr., Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, and Kharey Wise were the five youths who were wrongly convicted of beating and raping a woman that night. Race and racism, issues that have plagued New York City for years and years, played a role in what is known as the Central Park Jogger’s Case.

The New York Police Department cuckolded the five youths with promises that they would go home if they just admitted that they committed the crime. Without parental supervision and no legal representation, the five gave false testimony. They said what they thought the NYPD police officers wanted to hear. Each gave a false account of what happened that dreadful night, incriminating each other.

Not only did they all verbally say what happened, they also signed a document that they were giving honest testimonies. To make matters worse, all five were video recorded individually giving verbal accounts of what they said happened.

The five were eventually convicted despite their innocence. Antron McCray, Raymon Santana Jr., and Yusef Salaam all served about seven years in prison after being tried as minors. Kharey Wise was tried as an adult and spent about 13 years behind bars.

In December, 2002, an investigation by former Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau discovered evidence and DNA that placed a man with a length criminal record, Matias Reyes, at the scene of the crime. Reyes subsequently confessed and gave details to the crime that were previously unknown.

That case was the basis for 2013 THE CENTRAL PARK 5, a documentary by filmmakers Ken Burns, his daughter Sarah Burns and her husband David McMahon. The Central Park Five: The Untold Story Behind One of New York City’s Most Infamous Crimes, written by Sarah Burns, was published in 2012. The story of the five became an international story. They were able to open up about their experiences and recall the events that of that  dreadful night.

At the end of the film, it is shown that the five men filed a complaint a lawsuit against New York City’s Law Department. They wanted to be compensated for the years that they lost and rightly so. In June 2014, a $40 million settlement was reached. Each falsely imprisoned man received about one million for each year they were behind bars.

What does this say about the justice system in America? What does it say about the news coverage of the New York City news media. Both were substantively flawed! The youth of five young Latino and Black men were stolen. Time is something these men are unable to get back. While their lives may be a little more comfortable due to financial gain, it is a travesty that they had to be away from their families all those years.

Would this case have been so highly publicized if the female victim were a woman of melanin who had been raped? It is more than likely that the case would have been pushed aside. The truth of the matter is that in 2016 the revelations about endemic racism in America has been made graphically real, that there hasn’t been any real progress even after a America’s first black President was elected in 2008.

And there are people who still believe that the five are still guilty of the crime despite conclusive evidence that they are innocent.

One prominent individual adamant in his belief that they are still guilty is President-elect Donald Trump. He is holding on to his flawed opinion contrary to the evidence that has been presented and the reality that the five were exonerated.

Two weeks after the attack in 1989, Trump paid for ads in the city’s newspapers stating, “Bring Back The Death Penalty. Bring Back Our Police!”

Except for the youth’s families and close friends and a few supporters, many in New York City were led to believe that they were guilty. Regardless of his biased view, as well as his despicable comments during the campaign about women, Mexicans and Mexican Americans, the American people have chosen him as the next President of the United States.

The legal system must be improved in order to avoid false imprisonments. It is a tragedy for any person, young or old, black or white, rich or poor, to spend time in prison for a crime they did not commit.

It is incredulous that the servants of the law who coerced those five youth into their false confessions were not reprimanded for their actions.

Americans have been fighting for their rights and freedom since the days that the country was a British colony. It is a fight that is long from being over. It is one that may be ongoing.

Avid Maldonado can be reached at AvidMal@gmail.com