This year marks 24 years since five Black and Latino teenage boys from Harlem were convicted of raping Trisha Meili on April 19, 1989, in Central Park. Known collectively as the “Central Park Five,” Kharey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson and Raymond Santana collectively spent over 30 years in prison for a crime they did not commit.
With a confession from the real perpetrator, Matias Reyes, their convictions were vacated in 2002, and the five men walk free today. However, they and their supporters feel that setting them free was not enough, and compensation for time lost and defamation to their names is due.
A rally was held on Saturday to demand reparations for the five men who spent the rest of their youth and the beginning of their adult lives in prison, all while being innocent. Supporters marched from the 110th Street Harlem entrance of Central Park and headed to 125th Street via Malcolm X Boulevard chanting, “Justice for the Central Park Five!” “Bloomberg, it’s not your money!” and “The Central Park Five got to get paid!” Activist Omowale Clay, New York state Sen. Bill Perkins and New York City Comptroller John Liu were among the many supporters rallying for the men.
Richardson, Salaam and Santana marched with their supporters, overwhelmed by the reception and support from their community. “It’s an awesome feeling. In 1989, we felt that we didn’t have anybody,” Santana told the AmNews.
Salaam added, “This is beyond encouraging. This is showing all the love and support that people didn’t think we had.”
Richardson was also appreciative of his supporters and the media outlets, including the Amsterdam News, that told the story objectively. “The Amsterdam News has been there from the beginning,” Richardson said.
Many issues were brought up during the rally, including stop-and-frisk, an ongoing practice by the NYPD that many activists and politicians are fighting to eliminate. Also, a petition sponsored by Perkins to have the NYPD videotape interrogations from start to finish was passed around for community members to sign.
Attorney Michael Tarif Warren reminded the crowd at the Harlem Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building that the confessions made by the Central Park Five were the only thing that put them behind bars. “The DNA that they collected did not match any of these young brothers,” he said. “The confessions were coerced.”
With the documentary “The Central Park Five,” made by filmmakers Ken and Sarah Burns and David McMahon, airing on PBS last week and being shown throughout the country, the case is being exposed to those who may have known little about it, including young adults and teenagers who were just children or who were not even born at the time of the case.
Salaam believes youth involvement and awareness is important. “Young people have to understand that the struggle continues. They need to be present and aware of what’s happening. We gotta plug them in. They gotta stand up.”
Richardson told the AmNews, “When I see youth, I see myself through them.”
And many supporters saw themselves through the Central Park Five. “What happened to the Central Park Five could happen to any of us,” said Council Member Andy King, who represents the 12th District of the Bronx.
Liu is calling for Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city of New York to make things right. “This is not just about money. This is about accountability. It’s about what’s right. Enough is enough, let’s put this thing behind us already.”
Perkins says that the city should not delay any longer in paying the men. “Pay now, or more later.”