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Burns and Santana speak on 'Central Park Five'

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 2/21/2013, 1:37 p.m.
Many New Yorkers would like to forget the spring of 1989, but a new documentary...
Burns and Santana speak on 'Central Park Five'

The kind of language that had been used to justify lynchings of African-Americans in the Jim Crow era "was now being employed at the end of the 20th century in a supposedly progressive American city to justify what amounted to the lynching of five individuals," Burns said.

"I bought it," he continued. "I thought, 'What was happening to our cities? What happened?' [New York State Governor Mario] Cuomo was rubbing his hands and saying the cities are ungovernable. It just seemed to be symbolic of a decline. And then I noticed that when they were vindicated--when their sentences were vacated 13 years later--I noticed that the coverage was nothing, and my outrage began to boil. And my outrage has continued to boil for the last 10 years."

Burns also stated that the Central Park Jogger case, coupled with the lawlessness of the 1980s, the crack epidemic, the feeling that things were out of control, the squeegee operators and the graffiti, led the city to give the authorities leeway to do whatever they wanted so that citizens could feel safe. He also noted that this case led to the reintroduction of the death penalty in New York state.

Santana took it a step further.

"Back then, when this case came forth, we were charged as adults," Santana said. "And now you have stop-and-frisk and Trayvon Martin." He said it's easy to trace things back to their case, including new practices and policies by the police.

But despite the pain of the memory, Santana says the reception to the film has been overwhelmingly positive and he's grateful for that.

"The screenings have been great. The response has been awesome," Santana said. "People have come to us and apologized. They have cried. People wanted to hug us. And it's been very great, it's very appreciative. Because back then, we felt like the whole world was against us."

But what about the recent subpoena by the city and the NYPD for outtakes of the film? What would the city think they can get out of these outtakes? Burns had a clue.

"This is a fishing expedition that further delays the trial that has been outrageously delayed," said Burns. "A fishing expedition to look for inconsistencies so they can constantly point out minute changes in someone's testimony. That's all it is. It is an intrusion on our First Amendment rights as journalists. It is an intrusion under the shield laws of the state of New York, and we have moved to squash the subpoena."

"The Central Park Five" opens in theaters Nov. 23.