This past Monday afternoon, a re-naming ceremony was conducted at an entrance gate on Central Park’s 110th Street between Fifth Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard, commemorating a racial injustice committed over three decades ago. “The Gate of the Exonerated,” inscribed on a stone wall, was unveiled on the 20th anniversary of when the convictions of five Harlemites were overturned in the infamous 1989 “Central Park Five/Jogger” case. Since being legally cleared they’ve been known as “The Exonerated Five.” The city settled a lawsuit in 2014 for the wrongful assault and rape convictions in the 1989 case.
Several hundred withstood the cold while converging at Central Park’s Dana Discovery Center that morning for the ceremony. Three of the five wrongfully convicted—Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Yusuf Salaam—spoke, while Korey Wise and Antron McCray didn’t attend. They spoke about injustices and “breaking generational curses.”
“This is a moment. This is legacy time,” expressed Yusef, who was only 16 when the case started. “We’re here because we persevered, because what was written for us was hidden from the enemies that looked at the color of our skin and not the content of our character. They didn’t know who they had. The system is alive and sick, and we are to ensure that the future is alive and well.”
It was Santana’s first time in Central Park since 1989. He stated, “We know now that the system is flawed and it needs to be fixed.”
He added, “Now that my daughter is an adult, it’s time for us to go to Central Park, see the Gate of the Exonerated, and once again be a part of the park community.”
Richardson recalled the media labeling them as “a wolfpack,” “urban terrorists” and “wildin’” and convicting the Black and Hispanic teens before they had their say in a court of law.
“There were ads that said four of us should be horsewhipped, while the elder, Korey Wise, should be hung from a tree,” he stated. “That’s slave talk right there. It needs to be known what we went through. We went to hell and back. We have these scars that nobody sees. This is an important time right here—the Gate of the Exonerated, this is for everybody that’s been wronged by cops.”
Salaam said, “This is about giving recognition to something that should have never happened. The gate is just one example of healing, and how our path to healing is continuous.”
Mayor Eric Adams presented them with Keys to the City before saying, “To these soldiers here, you personify the Black male experience. The ‘Exonerated Five’ is the American Black boy, man, story. They stood firm, they stood tall. This naming is sending a strong message. History has an opportunity to rewrite the lines,” he said.
Adams continued, “We knew what had happened to them was wrong and we refuse to remain silent. I think all of our young men and boys, the Board of Education, Chancellor Banks, we should be having school trips to talk about this story because as time moves forward, we believe that there were not real struggles to get us where we are right now and we lose the historical moments that took place. That’s why this is so significant.”
He added that the gate is a “lasting reminder of the grave miscarriage of justice that took place.” An unveiling ceremony is scheduled for Dec. 19. Several current and former elected officials attended, including Keith Wright, Cordell Cleare and Bill Perkins.