The Central Park Five

The Central Park Five, a new film from award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns, tells the story of the five Black and Latino teenagers from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in New York City’s Central Park in 1989. Directed and produced by Burns, David McMahon and Sarah Burns, the film chronicles the Central Park Jogger case, for the first time from the perspective of the five teenagers whose lives were upended by this miscarriage of justice. The Central Park Five airs Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 9 p.m. on WXXI-TV/HD (DT21.1/cable 1011 and 11). It repeats Saturday, April 20 at 5 p.m. and Sunday, April 20 at 11 p.m. on WXXI-TV/HD. 

On April 20, 1989, the body of a woman barely clinging to life is discovered in Central Park. Within days, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise, and Yusef Salaam confess to her rape and beating after many hours of aggressive interrogation at the hands of seasoned homicide detectives. The police announce to a press hungry for sensational crime stories that the young men had been part of a gang of teenagers who were out “wilding,” assaulting joggers and bicyclists in Central Park that evening. The ensuing media frenzy is met with a public outcry for justice. The young men are tried as adults and convicted of rape, despite inconsistent and inaccurate confessions, DNA evidence that excludes them, and no eyewitness accounts that connect any of them to the victim. The five serve their complete sentences, between 6 and 13 years, before another man, serial rapist Matias Reyes, admits to the crime, and DNA testing supports his confession.

Set against the backdrop of a city beset by violence and facing deepening rifts between races and classes, The Central Park Five intertwines the stories of these five young men, the victim, police officers and prosecutors, and Matias Reyes, unraveling the forces behind the wrongful convictions. The film illuminates how law enforcement, social institutions, and media undermined the very rights of the individuals they were designed to safeguard and protect.

“This tragedy reminds us how much we struggle to come to terms with America’s original sin, which is race,” said Ken Burns.  “One only need to look at the history books to understand that, unfortunately, the Central Park Five are not unique in American history.”

“This case is a lens through which we can understand the on-going fault-line of race in America,” said Sarah Burns, who also wrote The Central Park Five: A Chronicle of a City Wilding, (Knopf, 2011).  “These young men were convicted long before the trial, by a city blinded by fear and, equally, freighted by race. They were convicted because it was all too easy for people to see them as violent criminals simply because of the color of their skin.”

“Ultimately The Central Park Five is about human dignity,” said David McMahon. “It is about five young men who lose their youth but maintain their dignity in the face of a horrific and unimaginable situation.”

In 2002, based upon Matias Reyes’s confession, a judge vacated the original convictions of the Central Park Five. A year later, the men filed civil lawsuits against the City of New York, and the police officers and prosecutors who had worked toward their conviction.  That lawsuit remains unresolved.

Among those interviewed in the film are: The Central Park Five and members of their families, New York City Mayors Ed Koch and David Dinkins, journalists Jim Dwyer, Natalie Byfield and LynNell Hancock, the Reverend Calvin Butts, and historian Craig Steven Wilder.

Photo Credit: Daily News/ Getty Images

 


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