[This article was originally published in 2013. As renewed interest in the ‘Central Park Five’ story emerges, this article is being reposted.]
It is one movie that you are happy to know the outcome.
‘The Central Park Five’, is a documentary that examines the 1989 case of five Black and Latino teenagers who were convicted of raping a White woman in Central Park. The movie is currently being screened throughout Southeast Queens to audiences, both young and old. Recently, the documentary was screened at the Robert Ross Johnson Family Life Center and the Jamaica Performing Arts Center.
At the Ross Center, seventh and eight grade students from the nearby Eagle Academy comprised a large portion of the guests who had come out. While the case of the Central Park Jogger left an indelible mark on New York City and its residents at the time, this younger segment of the population had not experienced the case but certainly its implications.
Young Black and Latino men are among the highest percentage that are stopped by NYPD in their stop, question and frisk policy. It was one reason why the Central Park Five were implicated in the rape. They were stopped when reports of teens carousing and causing mayhem through Central Park were reported.
Audience members were transfixed throughout the documentary. The film gave a glimpse of New York City of the late eighties, a city of financial gains and deep pockets of poverty. The film followed the discovery of the woman and how the teens were implicated in the crime. It delved into their taped confessions, a main component of the guilty verdicts, and the inconsistency of the statements. The film included interviews with all five of the men, teenagers at the time they were implicated, and several of their family members and community leaders.
A range of emotions were evident in the audience during the screening. There was anger and frustration evident from the lip smacking and a shout of ‘Tawana Brawley’, when the issue of believing a young woman’s rape story. There were tears wiped away and a huge surge of applause at the ending.
After the screening, Yusef Salaam and Kharey Wise, two of The Central Park Five, engaged in a dialogue with the audience. Kharey was the oldest at the time of the guilty verdict and, as such, was sent to Rikers Island to serve out his sentence. Yusef was his friend at the time. The two ventured to the police after hearing they were being sought in connection with events in the park. Knowing they had no part in crimes that night, they believed their trip to the police would be short and they would return home before their parents. “Kharey came home thirteen years later, Yusef came home eight years later,” they said to the audience.
Kharey shared that he was thankful to be alive. “I died every day for thirteen years,” he said of his prison incarceration. “I am messed up in the head from dealing with [the NYPD]. It’s good to laugh after going through hell.”
Kharey advised the young men there to become familiar with their Miranda rights. And to not talk until you see someone familiar. “The life you save may be your own,” he said.
There was no condemnation for all police and the lack of resentment was noticible in both men. Yusef talked about channeling his anger into education and inspiring people.
The men have not been in contact with the woman at the center of the jogger case, but had deep sympathy for her. “She has been victimized several times,” said Yusef. He was referring to the initial crime, then being told, as she had no memory of the events, The Central Park Five were the culprits only to find out that a serial rapist ultimately confessed to the crime.
After the rapist’s confession, the DNA evidence gathered at the time, that did not connect to any of the five teenagers, were a match for the serial rapist. The role of the prosecutor in the pursuit of a guilty verdict, was also a key component of the film.
Brandon Aiken, a student at Eagle Academy, came away from the screening believing that “sometimes cops can help and sometimes they can’t,” he said.
Tanya Sledge was nineteen at the time of the incident and remembered the events contained in the movie. She remembered thinking “Oh My God,” several years back when the incident occurred. “To see the truth now,” she said “the same phrase still resonates but for a different reason, the injustice”.
Vivett Hemans was also a young adult during the events depicted in the movie. “I remember that word wilding,” she said. “It became part of our vernacular”. She said the movie is a “must see”. She has been taking her children and as an educator, encouraging her students to see the movie.
Councilman Leroy Comrie, one of the sponsors of the free screenings, spoke about resolution for the Central Park Five. “We have not come to terms with this malicious prosecution,” he said. “The City Council is working to “help them get the restitution they so deserve.”
Councilman Comrie urged residents to put pressure on the Mayor by sending emails about the case to his office. He also said this case should be a “litmus test” for the next Mayor.§
Published in Communities of Color News April 2013 Issues