"The Central Park Five are innocent."
"Whaaaat? Can't be? That was a done deal." Or so I thought.
I didn't remember much about the 1989 case except its notoriety and its swift conclusion. Of course, they did it, case closed. When I heard they were innocent and a documentary made I knew I had to see it.
To recount, a blonde, blue eyed female jogger was brutally beaten and raped in Central Park. That same night a group of about two dozen non-white teenagers were in the area causing mayhem of anywhere from throwing rocks at cars to beating up a homeless man. When news came out that five of them had done this attack it made sense. The cops knew this, the press loved the story, prosecutors had a career making case. Everybody wins!
Except for the five who were framed brilliantly by the police.
The phenomenon of false confessions has been studied by the Innocence Project and would be well served to be put on the front page of every paper in the country. To wit:
"Astonishingly, more than 1 out of 4 people wrongfully convicted but later exonerated by DNA evidence made a false confession or incriminating statement."Take a bunch of 14-16 year-old terrified youths and sweat them for hours on end and you'll get the "confessions" you want to hear. Children inherently want to please authority figures when in trouble (cops know this) and these cops were screaming death at them. To this day, these false confessions are the only "evidence" that ties them to the rape. If the actual perpetrator had not come forward, the hysteria around the case would have sealed their fates. Even with that, some less than honorable people hold with the original lies.
But the truth came out only after serving years in prison, lives and families destroyed, time lost never to be regained. In Ken Burns' 2012 documentary we hear the full story for the first time. It is moving and powerful, a statement not only of those times but of any time, that witch burning by any other name is still just as prevalent. We haven't learned our lesson yet.
It's understandable there wasn't a firestorm of outrage when the verdicts were vacated. Everyone had egg on their face, from the police to the prosecutors to the populace. When it came to looking in the mirror afterwards there was only silence or even a doubling down on the lies. All those passionate people calling out for justice during the trial (Yes, I mean you The Donald), did they suddenly lose their voice? Or was justice never their aim?
When one of the five asked if it could happen again he replied "Yes" without hesitation. You see, it wasn't those five teenage boys who were guilty, it was us. We fear this society we have created, we fear the repercussions of the greed we have embraced, we fear the mirror could cost us everything. When a convenient scapegoat comes along on which to blame our ills it's just too much to resist. "We the jury find ourselves guilty."
Some call these convictions a de facto continuation of Jim Crow laws. But while racism is still out there, discrimination these days has moved to be more economically based. Used to be a time when no outrage was heard when a black man was wronged. No it's changed to no outrage when a poor person is wronged. Poor whites are shot by the police too but if an element of racism can't be attached to the shooting it gets a big "Meh!".
One day this insanity will end. Siding with the truth is never popular and speaking truths no one wants to hear (especially to those who are party to the lie) is a difficult thing. The longer we allow this to continue, the greater the spread of injustice. Everyone's turn is coming and it's to our benefit to listen now if we want to prevent tragedy in the future.