Why Trump — and all Americans — must watch Ava DuVernay’s Central Park trial series
The criminal justice system failed Korey, Raymond, Antron, Kevin and Yusef. We owe it to all of our children to not repeat the injustices of our past.
June 19, 2019, 1:29 PM PDT
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump told reporters that he would not apologize to the five Black men he demonized in 1989 after they were accused of a violent rape they did not commit. Years later they were exonerated, but only after another man admitted to committing the crime and DNA evidence confirmed his account. But Trump refused to acknowledge mistakes had been made, saying “you have people on both sides” of the exoneration, a phrase that should sound very familiar.
Trump and all Americans should watch Ava DuVernay’s recent miniseries “When They See Us,” on the Central Park jogger case.
DuVernay’s retelling of the case is a masterpiece. Her four-part series tells the stories of Korey Wise, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson and Yusef Salaam. In 1989, these five young boys were wrongfully accused of brutally raping a jogger in Central Park. The series chronicles their unjust detainment, illegal interrogation and the dismissal of evidence that pointed to their innocence, further highlighting the flaws in a system that is supposed to be rooted in truth and justice.
Systemic biases and racism cost these boys their childhood. Sensationalized media coverage — including a 1989 full-page ad placed by Trump — made it almost impossible for them to be treated fairly. And the trial also exposed the dehumanization of Black children and life-threatening consequences — things that still occur today. …
The criminal justice system failed Korey, Raymond, Antron, Kevin and Yusef. We owe it to them, and to all of our children, to fundamentally change the way that we treat our most vulnerable.
Yet, the best argument for believing Matias Reyes’ assertion that the Central Park Five didn’t help him rape the Central Park Jogger is that Korey, Raymond, Antron, Kevin and Yusef were too busy violently assaulting other random people in the park to have had the time.
From the Washington Post, an article on all the other crimes the Central Park Five were committing:
‘When They See Us’ tells the important story of the Central Park Five. Here’s what it leaves out.
By Deanna Paul, June 29
There were more than 30 teenagers in New York’s Central Park on the night Trisha Meili was raped. Some in the group brutalized whoever crossed their paths, choosing at random people to rob and to attack. They used stones, metal pipes, their fists and their feet. They left people bruised, bloody or unconscious.
The prosecution involved at least eight victims and 12 arrests. Yet its retelling — in headlines and in film — has taken what happened on April 19, 1989, and boiled it down to the Central Park Five and the Central Park jogger.
“When They See Us,” a series based on the story of the Central Park Five, written and produced by Ava DuVernay, has been Netflix’s most-watched program since its May 31 release, viewed by more than 23 million accounts worldwide at the time of publication. The four-part drama focuses on the mistreatment of five juveniles by the justice system.
The show’s success highlights the genre’s power to shape public perception. But if the series is a viewer’s first or only exposure to the Central Park case, parts of what happened that night are missing.
Kharey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Antron McCray, the men widely known as the Central Park Five, were prosecuted for what Georgetown Law professor and former federal prosecutor Paul Butler called “the ultimate crime in the American imagery:” a black man sexually assaulting a white woman.
They suffered the consequences of their convictions for years before newly discovered evidence led prosecutors to vacate their convictions; in 2002, Matias Reyes confessed to, and took sole responsibility for, the rape of Meili. The unknown DNA profile, discussed by prosecution at trial, was a match to Reyes.
Reyes was clearly guilty of raping the Central Park Jogger. He is an incredibly evil serial rapist, who even raped his own mother. He has been convicted of so many other crimes that confessing to this one, and after the statute of limitations had run out, won’t matter. He was in prison for life already.
Whether Reyes’ claim to have done it wholly alone should be credited is a different question. There’s never been a civil trial to adjudicate what happened. Two inmates said “Korey,” who was in the Bloods gang in the same prison, had threatened Reyes.
There isn’t much evidence that Reyes was the only person that night to attack the Central Park Jogger other than his word, for whatever that’s worth, and that his story fits the evidence somewhat better than the various contradictory confessions of the Five.
… There’s an unspoken tension between telling a story artfully and accurately. “When They See Us” stands out as a compelling work of true-crime entertainment. It also takes liberties with facts from the night in Central Park and the prosecution that followed….
There were several assaults, not just the rape on which history has focused
Just after 9 p.m. on April 19, more than 30 teenagers met at Central Park. The plan, according to statements later given to police by Briscoe and Lopez, was to beat up and rob passersby. It didn’t matter who they were. According to the trial testimony and recorded statement that night, in less than an hour, there were unprovoked attacks on eight people.
Michael Vigna, a competitive cyclist out on a training ride, was the first victim. At trial, the 31-year-old described the “rambunctious” group “spread across the roadway” as he approached.
“One of the youths stuck his arm out in the direction of my face, and just barely missed my head,” he said. “I could, in fact, hear the sound of his fist, the force of his blow just nearly nicking my side of my head.”
Vigna testified he sped down the asphalt path, away from the boys, who quickly found their next victim: 50-year-old Antonio Diaz, whom some of the boys referred to as “the bum” or “the homeless man” in statements to police. Diaz was crossing through the park with a beer, chicken, rice and beans in hand.
“They picked me up by my neck and then by my feet,” he told jurors during the trial for Salaam, Santana and McCray. He said the attackers threw him to the ground and “kept kicking at me and hitting me with their fists.” In their statements, Wise, Richardson, Salaam, McCray and Lopez admitted to attacking Diaz and dragging his body off to the side.
Jerry Malone and Patricia Dean were riding a tandem bicycle through the park when they encountered the group. Like Vigna described, the teens spread across the roadway, blocking their path. Dean recalled they pulled up dark hoods, crouched down and made “sort of grunting” noises.
“At that point I was terrified,” she testified. As the couple pedaled into and through the group, Dean said three men on her right side began to push and pull her legs. On her left, she said, another was grabbing at her thigh and trying to lift it up. “They almost ripped me off the bike.”
When speaking to police, McCray, Salaam, Richardson, Wise and Lopez mentioned there were tandem bikers they were unable to catch.
“When They See Us” briefly portrays Dean and one of the assault victims, John Loughlin. There is no mention of the other four people around the park reservoir who were either followed, beaten or robbed.
I haven’t seen this show, but I am told that one scene in it is of the bicycle-built-for-two trying to racistly run over the innocent black baby bodies as they frolic in Central Park. Stephen King should write a horror story about white men and women on tandem bicycles running down black youths.
Four male joggers were chased, robbed or knocked unconscious
The next two victims, joggers David Lewis and David Good, testified that they were chased and pelted with sticks and stones; Lewis remembered “two kids crouched down in a football stance” and about five others approaching him from behind. Both men escaped relatively unscathed.
The last two victims were not as fortunate.
Robert Garner, a 30-year-old research analyst, said he encountered 15 to 20 young men during his run. He said they were yelling and shouting. They surrounded him, forced him off the jogging track and began to punch him. Garner, knocked to the ground, recalled that one “had a grin on his face” while demanding his money. When he explained that he had nothing on him, “another one of the kids said, ‘Get out of here.’ ”
In his statement, Richardson mentioned that Santana had chased a man off the road. When the jogger said he had no money, Santana told him to get away and run, Richardson said.
At trial, the final victim, Loughlin, described approaching the group: “It looked like a fight, there was a center of attention. There seemed to be someone on the ground.” …
Loughlin recalled on the stand: “I don’t remember what happened next. My next memory was lying face down on the ground and being hit very hard with a heavy object in the head.”
Several boys, including Lopez and Briscoe, detailed Loughlin’s assault.
He was struck in the head and legs with a metal pipe and was holding himself, trying to protect his head. According to trial transcripts, he was kicked, robbed and knocked unconscious, then left with large black eyes and bleeding badly from his forehead.
At Richardson and Wise’s sentencing, the judge noted that a police officer described Loughlin as “looking like he was ‘dunked in a bucket of blood.‘ ” Even Richardson described Loughlin’s forehead as “busted and that blood was coming out.”
The group dispersed by 10 p.m. The female Central Park jogger would not be discovered for several hours, and she would awake from a coma two weeks later, on May 2. …
Salaam, Santana and McCray were tried jointly. After eight weeks of testimony, the jury deliberated for 10 days before convicting all three on the first-degree assault and first-degree rape of Meili, three charges of assault and the first-degree robbery of Loughlin, the second-degree assault of Lewis and first-degree riot. All three were acquitted of the attempted murder and first-degree sodomy of Meili.
Richardson and Wise’s trial began two months after the others’ verdict. The jury deliberated for 11 days before convicting Richardson on all 13 counts. Wise was convicted on the first-degree assault and first-degree sexual abuse of Meili and of first-degree riot. He was acquitted of all remaining charges.
By the time the district attorney’s office vacated the Central Park Five’s convictions, four of the men — Richardson, McCray, Salaam and Santana — each served about seven years in prison. Wise — who, at 16, was tried as an adult — spent 13 years in prison. …
If the responsibility to differentiate between a fictional and factual account falls on the audience, it must consider that while what it’s viewing may be based on a true story, there is probably more to the story.
One of the arguments for believing Reyes when he said he worked alone is that the Five were so busy committing other crimes that they wouldn’t have had time to also attack the Jogger.
From the Daily Beast in 2014, NYPD detective/writer Ed Conlon considers the epistemological issues:
The West Memphis Three, the Norfolk Four, and yes, the Central Park Five: All were gruesome and horrible crimes, but did all involve false confessions?
Published 10.19.14 5:45AM ET
… Shootings are often more challenging to investigate than homicides. With murders, as has been said, there’s one less liar to deal with. The J-K shooting was simple enough, in that it was a matter of arithmetic logic that one of them was telling the truth. The morality of other cases can be far murkier, the mathematics maddeningly complex, as witnesses, perpetrators, victims, and informants shift roles from felony to felony, related or otherwise. When prosecutors and cops make decisions on who to believe, and how to proceed on those beliefs, the process might be described as a beauty pageant in reverse. …
Do we put the heroin dealer on the stand against an armed robber? Yes, probably, provided we can corroborate his account. Do we take the wife-beater’s word against that of the pedophile? Yes, probably. That of a murderous serial rapist against a gang of teenagers who admitted to assaulting and robbing half a dozen people, and admitted and then denied raping and nearly killing someone else, in the same place, at the same time? Yes, apparently.
… the confessions of the teenagers are partial and contradictory. (A sixth young man was implicated by the others, but he denied responsibility for the rape, and was ultimately allowed to plead to lesser charges.) Some of the Five said they went on to other attacks, after the rape; others said it was the final crime of the night. All said that they only touched the jogger or helped restrain her, while one or more of the others forced themselves on her. It is not unusual for an individual criminal to minimize his part in a collective crime; the turbulent dynamics of crowds drives teenage boys, especially, to do spectacularly awful things together that they never would do alone. It is a corollary of the “bystander effect,” in which notions of personal responsibility are diffused when larger numbers of people are present. …
Testimony was what made the case, chiefly the confessions of the young men. Santana, McCray, and Richardson made video statements in the presence of a parent or guardian, and Wise made several statements, on his own, as the law permits. Salaam told the police he was sixteen, and he produced identification to that effect, allowing police to interrogate him without a parent. After his mother arrived, the questioning ended, but his oral admissions were admitted into testimony. In addition to the confessions, one of the other boys, while in the back of a patrol car, cried that he “didn’t do the murder,” but that he knew who did: Antron McCray. The boy beside him, Kevin Richardson, agreed: “Antron did it.” The jogger hadn’t yet been found. …
There was one witness whose statement had not been solicited by the police. Melonie Jackson, the older sister of a friend of Korey Wise, talked to him after he called the house from Rikers Island. When she expressed her dismay about the rape, Wise said that he’d only held the jogger down. Jackson volunteered this information to detectives, just before the trial, in the mistaken belief that it would help Wise. When ordered to take the stand, she wept, but she still swore that the conversation had occurred, just as she’d said. In his authoritative 1992 account of the trials, Unequal Verdicts, Timothy Sullivan relates that the prosecution thought her a “perfect witness,” but the jurors, oddly, chose not to credit her testimony in their deliberations. …
What are the odds that an entirely unrelated rape should occur in the midst of a violent crime spree lasting some forty-five minutes, in a small, sparsely populated area? That a gang who threatened and assaulted four joggers, among others, had nothing to do with a fifth? And yet, Matias Reyes had raped a woman in the park, two nights before. Was it negligent for the police to fail to consider the two crimes in context?
Conlon goes on to analyze several notorious cases of false confessions.
In viewing the case of the Central Park Five in the context of substantiated false confessions, they are characteristic of them in several ways. The defendants were young, and none had ever been arrested. The first two brought in had waited overnight in a precinct before they were interrogated, although they had eaten and slept at intervals, and one had been with his mother, the other with his friends. Korey Wise was learning disabled and emotionally disturbed, and he’d also been held overnight. …
But the differences are also pronounced. The arrests were far from indiscriminate: Thirty-seven young men were interviewed regarding the attacks in the park; 12 were arrested, with 10 charged as adults; five went to trial for the rape of the jogger. Antron McCray, who had been accused of “the murder” by two boys, appeared at the precinct with his mother, before the body of the jogger had been discovered. He denied any responsibility, and was sent home. Salaam was brought in the next night, and admitted to the rape after 90 minutes of questioning. A large number of detectives were involved, with long and distinguished records, from three different squads. The inconsistencies in the statements suggest, at least, that there was no concerted effort to force admissions to fit the evidence. None of the Five admitted to the actual rape of the jogger; none noticed the copious blood loss, or seeing the victim bound and gagged. Ryan acknowledges errors in Reyes’ later confession—he said he raped the jogger, and then she ran, and then he beat her head with a rock, whereas the rape and skull fractures followed an escape attempt; he recalled nothing of his signature ligature. Armstrong also reminds us that the detectives had to be cognizant of the possibility that the jogger might wake up and say that it hadn’t happened that way at all. For cops, reports from a hospital that a victim is “likely to die” routinely prove to be premature. The judge was dismissive of claims of coercion because the defendants, once reunited after their confessions, laughed and joked, comparing versions of the stories they told. They sang songs—including, infamously, Wild Thing—and catcalled at a female detective.
On the matrix of circumstances under which false confessions have occurred, you have a great number in which police misconduct was the decisive factor; you have a lesser number in which some aspect of disability led a vulnerable suspect to confess, under inherently intimidating circumstances. Instances of multiple false confessions are still more infrequent, though a pair of mentally retarded half-brothers were recently exculpated after serving decades in prison for a murder in Virginia. As for cases of multiple, parentally supervised, false confessions, it’s harder to say. Family members were present for the questioning of three of the five, and they were there for the video recordings. When a teenager is asked about a rape in front of his mother, is he more or less likely to deny it? And when several admit to rape, sitting beside their mothers, sisters, grandmothers, fathers and stepfathers, what do we make of that? On video, Raymond Santana was smug, boastful, and nonchalant by turns, vividly reenacting who did what during the rape. Antron McCray was with his mother for most of his interrogation, his stepfather for all of it. He signed a written confession after an hour and 45 minutes. Even defense counsel would have to acknowledge that there isn’t an abundance of comparable cases in the available literature.
What I do know is that we spent $41 million dollars to avoid asking these questions instead of trying to answer them.