It was almost 24 years ago, but to me it seems like it was yesterday. New York, 1989 will always have a special place in my heart because it marked 3 important milestones for me. It was the year that I turned 18, the year that I got my drivers license, and the year that I graduated from High School. The biggest news story of the year was the "Central Park Jogger Case".
On April 19,1989 Trisha Meili a 28 year old caucasian woman, went for her nightly jog in Central Park. Meili was an Investment Banker who often put in 12 hour days, and loved to run down the paths in the park at night while listening to Billy Joel, to relieve the stress of a long days work. That night she was raped, bludgeoned, sodomized, and beaten to within an inch of her life. When Police found Meili, she was tied by knotted rope, bleeding profusely and hanging to her life by a thread having lost 75% of her blood. She was in a coma for 12 days before becoming conscious, and beginning a long road to recovery. A Police investigation into reports of as many as 40 teenagers roaming the park that night assaulting and harassing people, uncovered 5 Black, and Latino suspects. The media coverage and spin were incredible, the group of boys were referred to as a "Wolf Pack", and the phrase "wilding" was used to describe their intent as they ventured out that night. The fact that these young men of color were described using the same adjectives normally reserved for animals was a twisted, and biased way of covering the story. Not to mention the obvious racial undertones. Contrary to normal NYPD procedure which stipulates that the names and identities of suspects under the age of 16 are to be withheld, the names of the 5 juveniles arrested in this case were immediately released to the media before they had been formally arraigned or indicted.
Famed real estate developer, and outspoken blowhard Donald Trump spent $85,000 to run ads in The New York Times, The New York Post, The New York Daily News and New York News Day, demanding that the death penalty be re-enacted especially for these young men. In the ads, which have the banner headline "Bring Back the Death Penalty," Trump wrote, "They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes. They must serve as examples so that others will think long and hard before committing a crime or an act of violence."
His racist, and reckless display of exhibitionism served to further polarize a city simmering with racial tension.
Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise and Yusef Salaam were all arrested and convicted of this heinous crime. All except Yusef Salaam, confessed after being coerced into video taped confessions in the presence of their parents. Salaam however did confess to being present at the time of the crime, after bring told that his fingerprints were found at the scene. Weeks later, they recanted citing hours of interrogation, intimidation, and lies before they confessed. There was no DNA evidence found at the scene tying any of them to this crime. All of them spent 5-13 years in jail.
In 2002 they were released from prison when 31 year old Matias Reyes confessed to the crime and his confession was corroborated by DNA evidence. Reyes is now serving 33 years to life for other crimes. The Central Park 5 were finally exonerated after many years behind bars, and in 2003, a year after their convictions were vacated, the 5 men filed a civil suit against the city of New York for $50 million each, charging misconduct on the part of detectives and prosecutors. This suit has has been dragging on for 9 years with no end in sight. It seems is if the Central Park 5 will have to wait for justice yet again. Surprisingly enough, Donald Trump has never apologized for wasting an obscene amount of money in an effort to execute these falsely accused young men, some of whom were as young as 14 at the time, even though they have been cleared of the crime. Of course when I talk about being surprised at Trump for not apologizing I'm being sarcastic. I don't actually expect an arrogant waste of space like Donald Trump to ever admit that he's done anything wrong or acquiesce to any pressure to do so. This man has spent decades making one insane remark after another in a effort to stay relevant, and all that he ever does is prove to the world that he is the biggest imbecile who ever lived. Perhaps he believes that the memory of his mistake has been washed away by time, and reality TV but, those of us who are native New Yorker's will never forget the sheer ambivalence he's shown when it comes to the lives of people of color.
Today Trisha Meili is one of the most sought out inspirational speakers on the lecture circuit. Through her work, book, and lectures, she reaches out to people struggling through recovery from any number of problems, offering Hope and Possibility.
As for Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise and Yusef Salaam, they are all approaching middle age after having their prime years stolen from them after being falsely imprisoned for all those years. The City of New York still refuses to settle their civil suits despite the fact that they were wrongfully prosecuted, unjustly accused, and convicted without evidence. In the beginning there was only 1 victim, and now there are 6. The difference is that one of them not only went on to triumph over her tragedy and go on to inspire others, but thrive and serve as an inspiration. While the other 5 still struggle for justice, their experiences serve as a fearful, cautionary tale of what can happen when you are a young person of color, in the wrong place at the wrong time.