THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE
I was particularly moved by new documentary THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE and hearing the now adult, and exonerated, men speak about their experiences because they could have been any one of my students at Satellite Academy in the South Bronx, where I was teaching in 1989. It's hard to believe that it was 22 years ago that my students from Through Our Eyes Video and History Project created their documentary TORN BETWEEN COLORS: YOUTH AND THE MEDIA, their response to the racially coded media frenzy around the Central Park Jogger case and the fatal beating of a black youth in Howard Beach, Queens.
Maybe that's why while watching the film directed by Sarah Burns, Ken Burns, and David McMahon, I was reminded of how young the 5 defendants in the Central Park Jogger case were. The young men were between 14 and 16 when detectives coerced all but one of them to confess to the brutal rape of a woman jogger in April 1989. The black and white newspaper photos of Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, and Korey Wise that appear early in the film are reminiscent of news photos of the Scottsboro Boys, another group of young black men falsely accused of raping a white woman 58 years earlier in Alabama. To some, 1931 Alabama and 1989 New York City may seem an unfair comparison. But the collusion of a news media that spewed hysterical, racist headlines and a justice system that ran over truth in its rush to accuse and convict are the same.
It also made me think about how much has not changed over the years in the relationship between race and law enforcement in our city. That problematic relationship can be traced in the videos subsequent students of mine have made since TORN BETWEEN COLORS was produced - videos about the police killing of Amadou Diallo (1999), about knowing your rights when stopped by the NYPD (2000), about the police killing of Sean Bell (2008), about why the NYPD Stop & Frisk policy is unconstitutional (2010), about knowing your rights when stopped by police (2012).
Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, and Korey Wise have yet to receive full justice. The City of NY and the NYPD are fighting their lawsuit for a settlement - even subpoenaing the materials from THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE to use in the City's defense. The same city and police administration steadfastly defends its stop and frisk policies.
THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE is a powerful film that really speaks to a larger issue than the miscarriage of justice in the Central Park Jogger case - when will our society begin to truly invest in the lives of young black and Latino men?