Story by Risa Peris
The Central Park 5 was an infamous trial and conviction of five boys – four black and one Hispanic – of the brutal rape of a white woman who was jogging in Central Park. She was hit on the back of her head and had no memory of the attack. The white woman jogger, Trisha Melli, was comatose for days and given last rites. She eventually recovered with extensive rehabilitation and is now an advocate for victims rights.
On the night of the attack, several boys, approximately thirty, of color were running through the Park with no thought in mind other than having fun or doing the “Wild Thing” after a Tone Loc song. There was talk they were harassing bikers in the Park and also there were assaults and robberies. The police raided the area and apprehended suspects. Those suspects were eventually labeled the Central Park 5. The boys were interrogated without attorneys and, in some instances, parents. They were promised freedom if they would confess to the crime of rape. One boy was already injured after an attack by a police officer.
The Central Park 5 were convicted and given a range of prison sentences. In 2001 Matias Reyes, serving a life sentence, admitted to attacking Trisha Melli and his DNA matched the sample extracted from Melli. Semen and hair were extracted from Melli and matched Reyes. The Central Park 5 were fully exonerated and received multi-million dollar settlements from the City of New York.
Director Ava DuVernay has made a hit show for Netflix about the Central Park 5 told from the perspective of the accused.
Linda Fairstein, the prosecutor turned novelist, who was involved in the case refused to work with Du Vernay or Netflix if the exonerated men were interviewed. Fairstein has since been dropped by her publisher and there is a Twitter campaign against her. She has also stepped down from the Boards of several non-profits.
Perhaps what is most egregious about this whole ordeal, notwithstanding Trisha Melli’s rape and injuries, is that Donald Trump, at the time, placed several full-page ads in New York City newspapers demanding the death penalty be brought back and insisting that the Central Park 5 should be executed. Keep in mind, all of the defendants were under the age of 18 and rape is not usually a crime associated with the death penalty.
Donald Trump still maintains that the Central Park 5 are guilty despite scientific evidence and a confession by a serial rapist. This is particularly concerning since he has decided to tackle prison reform in the United States.
Donald Trump needs to apologize. However, the exonerated men of the Central Park 5 do not expect an apology. There is something to fear in a president being overtly racist, calling for the death of children, and now having the power to mold prison policy for years to come. The men of the Central Park 5 have achieved justice, of a kind, but the US has yet to wash itself of the racial detritus and hate Trump spewed in 1989. He continues to make racially charged statements and acts. Trump can’t reform our criminal justice system any more than he can negotiate with foreign powers unless, of course, he is talking with world tyrants who also believe in the death penalty for children and dissidents.