The case of the Central Park Five looks like it is getting swept under the rug, again. Even as a documentary film is being released about the injustices done to five young NYC men wrongly accused of raping a white woman in 1989, coerced into making false confessions, convicted and forced to serve from 8 to 13 years behind bars, the full story is still not being told.
There was no physical evidence, no witnesses, nothing except their confessions. However, if a defendant testifying in court, in the full light of day, with counsel present, recants what they previously said when they were alone, defenseless and brutalized in the basement of a police station, how can their “confession” be upheld? Nonetheless, in the case of the Central Park Five, that is the only “evidence” the state had against these youths.
The Mayor at the time, Ed Koch, led the mob repeatedly attacking the five youths in the media, in the weeks before trial. Donald Trump, not to be outdone, ran full page ads in the daily press calling for the death penalty for these children just days after they were arrested. The media gladly went along with the charade, manufacturing terms like “wilding” and claiming that this is what the young men said they were doing. One of the chief prosecutors, Linda Fairstein, now a best-selling crime fiction author, began her career by writing fictional confessions for innocent individuals.
None of these people, or any of the other players in this travesty , have had the grace to apologize for their wrongdoing. As for the City of New York, it is refusing to pay them damages even though another man whose DNA matched those at the crime scene, came forward and said that he was the perpetrator.
The documentary, in effect, claims that, “Yes, grievous mistakes were made, but, after all, these were the bad old days of the 1980s, when crime was rampant, and tension and conflict between the races was widespread. So everyone sort of lost their heads and went overboard in their haste to see justice done.”
Those were the “bad old days?” What about right now when more than 700,000, almost exclusively, Black and Brown boys and men are stopped and searched, without cause, each year? What about the fact that the prisons are bursting at the seams with people of color in NY and around the nation, most having been incarcerated for the flimsiest of reasons? As for “everyone losing their heads,” everyone did not lose their heads, many, many people, from Day One, insisted and marched and protested that an injustice was being done. So the documentary, “The Central Park Five,” may be a step in the right direction, but we still have far to go to arrive at “the truth, nothing but the truth.”