Beyond Central Park

Taken from an April 18 audio column on prisonradio.org. The writer is a political prisoner at SCI Mahanoy in Frackville, Pa.

The riveting documentary, “Central Park Five,” was an explosive example of what scholar Michelle Alexander has termed, “The New Jim Crow” (the title of her recent book), but, upon reflection, we find that it wasn’t so “new” after all.

Five young Black and Latino boys, charged with raping a white woman, were sacrificed on the unholy altar of political expediency and blind ambition, cut up, ripped from their lives and families, and thrown into the hellish furnace of prison for years, to burn and weep, despite their innocence!

Documentarian Ken Burns and his daughter Sarah Burns have produced a work that shines a harsh light on New York’s criminal justice system, where all of its elements — police, prosecutors, defense lawyers and the press — failed to heed the most fundamental feature of fair trials — the presumption of innocence — and they, therefore, became agents, aiders and abettors of injustice.

But, while the Burns work is brilliant and indeed heartbreaking in its recitation of the crimes committed against the five boys, one feature seems to be missing.

There is no discussion of the judiciary, especially the appellate courts. We know that the trial judge slept while this travesty shattered the boys’ lives, but were any appeals filed?

Any post-conviction writs? Any federal proceedings?

It is possible that none were filed, given how bleak many of the families felt after the 1989 trial and convictions.

But if they were filed, that story, too, must be told, for if so, it shows the rank corruption and the political servility of appellate courts, which failed to do justice for five children. And in so doing, damned themselves as well.

The Central Park Five are Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise.