Central Park 5 talk about settlement

Three of Central Park 5 hold press conference after court ruling.WW photo: Dolores Cox

Three of Central Park 5 hold press conference after court ruling.
WW photo: Dolores Cox

On June 19, 2014, twelve years after the filing of a lawsuit by the Central Park 5 — five innocent Black and Latino teenage boys who in April 1989 were arrested, interrogated for hours without an attorney, coerced into confessing, tried, convicted and imprisoned for a crime they never committed — New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio officially settled the lawsuit in their favor, awarding them $40 million.

On June 26, the city’s comptroller approved reparations for the Five towards repairing the injustice done.  All that is needed now to finalize the settlement is for the federal judge to sign off on it.

The teens — Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson and Yusef Salaam — were accused of attacking and raping a white woman jogger in New York City’s Central Park on the night of April 19.  They became known as “the Central Park 5.” Their ages ranged from 14 to 16 years old.

Once the New York City Police Department zeroed in on the five boys, they looked no further for suspects.  The media and political leaders tried and convicted them before the trial began.  New York City and the entire country, engulfed in everyday racism, immediately assumed the boys to be guilty.  Their names and faces were plastered all over the newspapers and TV.  They were referred to as “a wolf pack gone wilding,” among other such derogatory names.

The CP 5 case involved the complicity of the NYPD and the district attorney’s office in railroading the teens, without having any evidence of their guilt.  Despite the fact that details given in their individually manipulated confessions contradicted each other, the teens served prison terms of 7 to 13 years before they were exonerated of the crime they never committed.

In 2002, a completely different person, Matias Reyes, confessed in detail to acting alone in the brutal raping of the jogger.  His DNA matched.

In December 2002, the Five were exonerated and released.  They subsequently filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the NYPD and the city of New York for racially motivated violation of their civil rights, false arrest, malicious prosecution, and wrongful conviction and imprisonment.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and former Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, until the end of their terms on Dec. 31, 2013, refused to settle the lawsuit and provide reparations to the Five, claiming no wrong-doing on the part of the NYPD or the DA’s office. They claimed the charges were supported by an abundance of “probable cause” and even refused to accept the demonstrated innocence of the Five.  Federal Judge Deborah Batts denied the city’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit in 2007.

During the 12 years of litigation there were numerous court hearings/status conferences and attacks by the city’s legal department.  The families say they also received death threats, which continue to this day.

Billionaire Donald Trump had waged a smear campaign against the Five after their arrest, including calling for the death penalty. Now, instead of apologizing, he still continues his crusade against them.

CP 5 members speak of suffering

With family members present, on June 27 at a City Hall press conference, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson and Yusef Salaam, now middle-aged, struggled to hold back tears as they described the psychological and physical toll that the 25-year ordeal has taken on all their lives.

Each one related how the initial shock of being arrested and accused of such a heinous crime impacted them.  And of the unbelievable vilification and hatred they received from the city as a whole throughout the entire process leading up to their conviction.  The men also spoke of how torturous imprisonment was for them.  They were victimized by other inmates, served spoiled food, worked for 50 cents/hour in order to buy commissary food at outside prices, and confined to an environment rife with rats and roaches.  Continuing to maintain their innocence resulted in denial of parole.

The men feel that they’ve been vindicated by the truth.  They see the settlement as the beginning of the healing process, yet say they have a long way to go towards being made whole.  They suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. They just want to live a productive life and remain living in the city in peace, they say.

The men had their youth snatched from them, which, as was pointed out, no amount of money can compensate for.  They were viewed as criminals and after their release had to register as sex offenders, had to check that box on job applications that they had been convicted of a felony crime, had missed the opportunity to acquire necessary job skills and had suffered learning gaps.  They mentioned that they were given no transitional help in adjusting to re-entering society.

The men gave thanks for the support they received to former Comptroller John Lui, former City Councilmember Charles Barron, the late Elombe Brath and Amiri Baraka, state Sen. Bill Perkins, the December 12th Movement, the Black media, Assemblyman Keith Wright, filmmaker Ken Burns, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Mayor De Blasio, and the Central Park 5 legal team, who battled in the streets as well as the courtroom.  They also acknowledged the unity of political activists, the community and many others who believed in them throughout their long journey, adding that they hope that no other families will ever have to endure such horror.

At the press conference it was stated: “Victory belongs to those who struggle” and “Victory goes to those who prevail.”