It’s become one of New York City’s most infamous cases of injustice, and now after twenty-five long years it seems some form of justice will be given to the Central Park Five due to a recent court settlement in a case that was started two years ago. A case started after a crime these five young men were falsely accused of committing back in the late 80s, early 90s.
On April 19, 1989, a young woman by the name of Trisha Meili was jogging through Central Park when she attacked. Beaten and raped, Meili was left there to die as she fell into a coma due to her injuries. The media would name her The Central Park Jogger. Meanwhile, somewhere else far from where she was attacked, five young men who were out having fun would later have their lives tossed into a tailspin suspects merely because of their social background and for being Latino and Black youth.
The lives of Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Kharey Wise would forever by changed when they would be arrested and then later charged in the rape of Meili. However, for those not close to these five young men they were simply the Central Park Five.
These five young men would become the prime example of how a mainstream media frenzy intermingled with a highly racial police force would cost the boys to lose a combined 13 years of their lives due racism and police abuse.
After the crime, and an outcry to find the Central Park Jogger’s attacker from the community and media, the Central Park Five were taken into police custody and endured hours of interrogation. Succumbing to the abusive interrogation, the five boys under duress were coerced into making confessions by police officers.
Four of the five—McCray, Richardson, Santana, and Wise—officially confessed to committing the rape and had their confessions recorded before their parents. However, Salaam verbally admitted to the crime but refused to sign a confession or make one on videotape. Despite his decision not to confession on tape or sign anything, Salaam was later implicated by all of the other four and convicted.
Although the Central Park Five later took back their confessions and assured their innocence—and gaining a great deal of support from their families and the community—the city wouldn’t truly acknowledge their innocence until 2002 when someone else would confess, and be proven as the suspect due to DNA testing, to being the true rapist.
Back in 2002, when one of the five encountered Matias Reyes in prison—who was serving a 17 year sentence for another crime—the encounter eventually led Reyes to set forth and take responsibility for what he had done 13 years prior. Confessing to raping Meili, Reyes was found to be the true culprit due to his account of the crime and the crime scene along with DNA samples gathered and tested. But harm had already been committed to both Meili and five 14 to 16-year-old boys.
While their names were cleared, there was still more to be done for the five. Although Mayor Michael Bloomberg would do nothing under his administration, the Central Park Five hoped to keep the city’s newest Mayor to stick to his promise.
Back in April of this year, a rally was held in Central Park to mark the 25th anniversary of the crime that took so much, for so many. At the rally, the five urged Mayor Bill de Blasio to honor a promise he had made during and after his campaign to become Mayor of New York to the Central Park Five to commensurate the suffering they had endured by the city.
“We have been patient, we want to finally move on with our lives and put this ugly nightmare to bed,” said one of the five Salaam during the rally, “One day in prison for a crime you didn’t commit is one day too long! For my comrades and I, we collectively spent 41 years in prison for crimes we didn’t commit. The time is now for justice to be swift and favorable. We and our families have suffered for far too long.”
And now, it appears it is a promise that is being met.
The Central Park Five will receive an estimated $41 million from the city for their wrongful convictions twenty-five years ago. Yusef Salaam, and Raymond Santana will receive $7.125 million each after having served 7 years in jail for the crime. Meanwhile, Kharey Wise will be receiving $12.25 million because he had served 13 years.
According to Zachary Carter, the corporation counsel for the city, the court settlement is not to “be construed as an admission that it came because the convictions ‘were the result of law enforcement misconduct.’” Despite claiming the settlement is not an admission of guilt upon the city’s part that saw to the injustice these young men endured, and the victim herself, the settlement is the largest amount awarded to anyone in New York City who endured a wrongful conviction.
“As you can imagine, we are all still trying to process what I call a sort of victory. I’m glad the battle is over, but I know the damage done isn’t covered by the amount we were awarded. No amount can replace the loss of freedom, justice and equality,” said Salaam about the settlement.
Although Salaam acknowledges that the court settlement is some form of victory over the years of injustice he and the other four have endured, he makes an interesting statement which relates to current racial issues in New York City.
“I am concerned about the future of our community because we are far too often the ones at the end of the stake, roasted over the coals to satisfy the sadistic nature of the sick presence of institutionalized racism. I am afraid for the future of our community because if we are always seen as the culprit, the real criminals prevail,” Salaam added, seemingly referring to the recent escalation of Latino and Black citizens being harassed by New York City Police Department due to the increased presence of racial profiling.
Although racial tensions aren’t as high as it once then, it does not mean racial tension within New York City is a thing of the past.
Every day you may hear, see, or read of young Latino or Black New Yorkers being racially-targeted by law enforcement for being “in the wrong place, at the wrong time” and having their rights violated merely because of the color of their skin. While the Central Park Five and the turmoil they endured are a thing of the past, it should not be forgotten but used to make our community better to avoid another repetition.