A racist hate crime of sensational proportions has been allowed to fester since 1989. It must be addressed and the victims properly compensated. However, justice is still being denied 23 years later.
In 1989, then Mayor Ed Koch referred to the near-death beating and rape of a young white woman jogger in Central Park as “the crime of the century.” The police department, the district attorney’s office and the media all fell into racist lockstep, demonizing a so-called “wolf pack” of five Black and Latino teens on a “wilding” spree as the ones responsible.
While that attack was horrific — it’s a miracle the woman survived and was able to move on with her life — the crime that continues to this day is the one perpetrated on the five innocent young men of color who had the misfortune to be in Central Park on the evening of April 19, 1989.
A new, critically acclaimed documentary, “The Central Park Five,” created by award-winner Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon, chronicles how this crime was systematically contrived and executed in a virulently racist, legal lynching by the capitalist state and the corporate media. Not only were there 28 other rapes in New York City during the same week, almost all of them of Black and Latina women, but only one, that of a Black woman in Brooklyn, received even a mention in the press.
The movie shows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, how the youth were tortured — during many hours of interrogation while being deprived of food and sleep — into confessing to a crime they did not commit, based on promises that if they implicated the others they could go home.
In the film, New York Times columnist Jim Dwyer admits that journalists did not do their job. Why didn’t they question the fact that none of the so-called confessions locates the scene or time of the attack? Why weren’t the stories of the attack consistent? Why didn’t DNA evidence corroborate their guilt? The only coincidence was that all the confessions implicated the other four by name. You can hear the cops constantly repeating the names during the interrogations.
Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana Jr. and Korey Wise were railroaded to prison for seven to 13 years in a racist frenzy, their young lives, and those of their families, irrevocably shattered.
In 2002, Matias Reyes, a rapist and murderer sentenced to life in prison, finally confessed and his DNA was identified on the woman’s clothes.
Even though the youths’ convictions were vacated on Dec. 19, 2002, no one in city government has apologized for this injustice. However, District Attorney Robert Morgenthau’s comments in his Dec. 5, 2002, motion to vacate point out “troubling discrepancies” in the youths’ coerced confessions.
Seeking justice and reparations, Richardson, Santana and McCray filed a civil suit against the city in 2003 for “malicious prosecution, racial discrimination and emotional distress.” However, the state, ever since using devious manipulations to delay the case, subpoenaed in September the outtakes from and original interviews and research for the documentary. The filmmakers have refused to comply, determined not to be bullied by the state.
Dolores Cox, a civil rights activist who has been following the suit, told Workers World after viewing the film, “As a Black person living my entire life in the U.S., a country built on Black and Native holocausts fueled by capitalism, I’ve witnessed and personally experienced the continuing violence and terrorism directed toward people of color here. I live in a country that loves to hate. Pathological racism has been built into not just its criminal justice system, but into every other system and institution to ensure its permanence.”
By throwing a spotlight on the hate crime that continues, the film is a cry for justice that must be heard.
Davis and other WWP women activists participated in the Committee to Defend the Central Park 5 in 1989-90.