The Miscarriage of Justice in New York City
The 'Central Park Five' were black and Latino teenage boys who were were arrested, tried and convicted for raping a white women who had been jogging in Central Park.
The crime was a horrific one that left the woman, a young and successful investment banker who lived on the Upper East Side, near death, in a coma and with severe injuries.
The year was 1989, and New York was in the midst of financial crisis and a crime wave. The Central Park Five investigation and case was one of several that were followed closely by media and the general public. The massive media exposure and public's fear put pressure on the NYC police and public defenders to find and punish the perpetrators. Unfortunately, they got the wrong guys, and five young men spent six or more years of their lives behind bars for a crime they did not commit.
Chronicling the Case
How could such a miscarriage of justice occur? Unfortunately, as we've seen in other recent documentaries -- in the Paradise Lost Trilogy, for example, and the soon to be released West of Memphis, both of which deal with the wrongful arrest of the West Memphis Three -- it happens time and again.
In the case of the Central Park Five, the teens -- Anton McCray, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise -- had been in Central Park, where a group of some 25 youths had congregated, and were behaving aggressively towards joggers and bicycle riders. The five were picked up separately and randomly by police, and brought to the precinct station for questioning. They were charged with unlawful assembly. None of them had criminal records, and their parents had gone to the precinct to pick them up upon their release, which was supposed to happen quickly.
Instead, when the police became aware of the attack on the jogger, they held the teens for that crime. Their taped interrogations show that the teens were coerced into confessions that included information provided to them by their interrogators, and shifting blame to the other boys -- even through they had not been together or even near the scene of the crime.
As the case progressed, it became increasingly clear that there was no real evidence -- save the coerced confessions -- that the boys had even been at the scene of the crime. The district attorney must have known this, but prosecuted the case strongly -- and all five were convicted of the crime.
The jogger's condition improved to the point where she was able to testify in court, but she remembered nothing about the night she'd been brutalized.
The boys were convinced and imprisoned. They'd spent years in jail before another prisoner -- a man who was convicted of serial rapes -- confessed that he was guilty of raping the jogger and leaving her to die. The case was reopened and the Central Park Five were exonerated.
But, as each of the boys -- now all adults, of course -- says, they can never get back their youth, or the years during which they were deprived of their freedom. And, they cannot pick up the paths they were on -- to careers, marriage and other such fulfilments -- before their incarceration. No amount of compensation could cover the loss they've experienced.
The five are interviewed in the film, and they are shown in archival footage, including clips of the tape that was shot by the police during their interrogations. Testimony and commentaries are also provided by prominent news reporters who were assigned to cover the case, as well as by former NYC Mayors Ed Koch and David Dinkens, Reverends Calvin O. Butts III and Al Sharpton, among others.
The documentary is comprehensive and detailed. It's very important that this story not be forgotten. But the film doesn't delve into the realm of how the criminal justice system can or should be held accountable for prosecuting these innocent boys and adversely impacting their lives.
Missing Questions...and Answers
The film provides no information about whether the teens were compensated in any way, whether the police and/or prosecutors were brought to task for their errors and misrepresentations, whether laws have been changed to protect the innocent from wrongful prosecution. These are pressing questions that occur to audiences when they see the film, but the questions are not raised in the film. They are an important part of the story, and they should be asked and answered.Still, the film reminds us that there is miscarriage of justice abroad, and calls for civic vigilance and monitoring of the justice system.
If You Like This Documentary, You May Also Like:
- The Paradise Lost Trilogy
- Crime After Crime
- Presumed Guilty
- Forbidden Lies
- Deliver Us From Evil
- My Neighbor, My Killer
- Made in India
- Title: The Central Park Five
- Directors: Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon
- Producers: Chris Bongirne, Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, Sarah Klein, Tom Mason, David McMahon
- Original Music: Doug Wamble
- Cinematography: Anthony Savini, Buddy Squires
- Film Editing: Michael Levine
- US Theatrical Release Date: November 23, 2012
- Running Time: 119 mins.
- Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
- Production Country: USA
- Production Location: New York City
- Language: English
- Production Company: Florentine Films
- Distribution Company: Sundance Selects