For almost as many years as they have been alive, five Black and Latino New Yorkers have been notoriously known as the “Central Park Five.” This Saturday, April 20, they will observe the 24th anniversary of their false arrest and incarceration at a rally and march at the Harlem entrance of Central Park to demand that the city pay them reparations.
They were mere teens when the New York City Police Department, city prosecutors and a lynch mob made up of the mainstream press–egged on by full-page ad-taking, execution-demanding Donald Trump–labeled the innocent kids as marauding youth who attacked and raped a white female jogger.
The teens, Kharey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray and Kevin Richardson, spent between six and 13 years in prison. Comptroller John Liu has urged Mayor Michael Bloomberg to stop the city’s stalling and settle the case as it goes through federal court.
“It just seems that this administration–for whatever reason–does not want to get resolution in this matter that has been outstanding for 10 years,” Liu told the AmNews. “I believe that it is an irresponsible position and not in the best interest of New Yorkers, both from the viewpoint of what’s right and wrong, and also from a fiscal perspective.”
Attorney Michael Tarif Warren has been on the case since 2002. The noted warrior attorney praised the consistent public engagement in the case, telling the Amsterdam News, “We the lawyers are going to continue on, but the people are the real engines. They bring about justice with the rallies and other engagements here.”
Called to the case by activist Elombe Brath and now state Sen. Bill Perkins, Warren said he signed on as lawyer for Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Antron McCray. He was joined by his wife, Evelyn, and attorney Roger Wareham.
On April 19, 1989, 28-year-old Trisha Meili was attacked and raped while out jogging through Central Park. The five young Black and Latino youths were picked up for the crime.
They were arrested, questioned and allegedly intimidated and coerced by “New York’s Finest” into giving statements, tried in the media and sentenced.
Warren says that the investigators always knew that no DNA evidence linked the five youngsters to the heinous crime, so they pushed the disputed confessions as their main point of their case. In 2002, Matias Reyes confessed to the crime. While serving a life sentence for rape and murder, he just happened to bump into Wise. He confessed. Lo and behold, his DNA was a match with Meili’s attackers.
Despite this admission that he acted alone when he committed the vile act when he was 17, and despite the mountain of evidence, key players in the case whose stock had risen because of it–namely Elizabeth Lederer, Manhattan ADA Linda Fairstein and cop Mike Sheehan–claimed that their case was solid and, someway, somehow, the five boys-to-men had to be involved.
However, as the din from Central Park Five supporters grew louder, District Attorney Robert Morgenthau had to follow the evidence. Finally he recommended to vacate the convictions. New York Supreme Court Justice Charles J. Tejada did so on Dec. 19, 2002.
In 2003, Santana, Richardson and McCray sued the city for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination and emotional distress. Ten years later, the city refuses to admit culpability, claiming that the confessions “withstood intense scrutiny in full and fair pretrial hearings and at two lengthy public trials.”
So after 23 years of underground public activism trying to get justice for the Central Park Five, filmmakers Ken and Sarah Burns and David McMahon premiered their documentary, “The Central Park Five,” to rave reviews, as they compared the case to that of the notorious 1931Scottsboro Boys rape case. Since then the film has been screened all over the states and aired on PBS this week.
Activist Omowale Clay stated, “The only way we can fight and win is together and in the streets. We will get reparations for these young brothers now! The New York City Police Department and Mayor Bloomberg’s administration have relentlessly stalled any progress on this blatantly open-and-shut case of police abuse and injustice. Serial rapist Matias Reyes confessed to the crime. The only DNA found at the crime scene was his, and the five men have been exonerated. Yet they still refuse to admit any wrongdoing.”
The fact that the case was vacated “holds risks for the city,” said Liu, the city’s top money manager. “These men and their families have been through enough. It was a terrible chapter for them, and the young woman, and for the city.
“I believe that there is no intention to resolve this issue before this administration leaves office,” the mayoral candidate continued, who said that he refused to politicize the case. He did, however, slam Bloomberg’s dithering as “irresponsible and unjust. I have been very clear: Let’s get both sides in the same room and get a solution. The absence of dialogue does not help. It is a wound that continues to fester. The sealing of this wound will not start until there is resolution.”
The Amsterdam News reached out to the city’s law department. The NYPD and Bloomberg’s office but did not get a response by press time.
But, Celeste Koeleveld, Executive Assistant Corporation Counsel for Public Safety sent the following statement;“As we’ve said before, the City stands by the decisions made by the detectives and prosecutors. The ‘Central Park Jogger’ was not the only victim that night; others were also brutally attacked, beaten and robbed. The charges against the plaintiffs and other youths were based on abundant probable cause, including confessions that withstood intense scrutiny, in full and fair pretrial hearings and at two lengthy public trials, with all of the decisions being affirmed by the appellate courts.”
Warren determined that the Burns and McMahon production was the “best documentary I have even seen.” Its nationwide impact has moved the case from major spheres of influences like New York and California campuses to the living rooms of regular folk who may not have known the details of the case.”
The city’s options of resistance “are being eroded,” said Warren. “They should just settle. People know about the case and the city cannot hide what they have done. The documentary is full of great analysis and lays out the case.”
Bloomberg is resisting, Warren surmised, simply because “it would expose the city like never before because of the actions of the police officers and prosecutors. Linda Fairstein and Mike Sheehan built their careers off of this case on lies that they knew were lies.”
Warren cites “Blood Cried Out: A Prosecutor’s Spellbinding Account of the Power of DNA” by Harlan Levy as a source detailing how the normally calm prosecutor Lederer freaks out in August 1989, saying, “We have been kicked in the stomach,” telling fellow prosecutors and law enforcers that there was no DNA match for the five teens, therefore they must rely on any consistent strains in the tenuous confessions.
“Matias Reyes abused another lady in the same place in April 1989. They knew it. Mike Sheehan was assigned to take his DNA. Why didn’t he do a match?” asked Warren. “So they set these boys up to suffer from the beginning. They didn’t care, they wanted to settle the case.”
The rally will take place on Saturday, April 20 at noon at the 110th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard Central Park entrance.