The 2013 documentary The Central Park Fivethat was available to me on Amazon provided a deep analysis of the 1989 central park jogger case, and the following ramifications. On April 19, 1989, a woman jogging in central park was found nearly beaten to death and violently raped. A group of about 25 teenagers were also in the park at the time, raising havoc by abusing bicyclers, harassing a homeless man, and beating up a pedestrian, and five of these boys ended up being caught in the middle of one of America’s most talked about criminal cases. Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time, and they spent the rest of their childhood in prison for a crime they did not commit. Their false confessions are what drove the prosecutors to convict them, but the color of their skin is what prompted the police to question them in the first place, and considering the nature of the crime, the NYPD was pressured to solve it quickly. Despite none of their DNA being present on the victim or at the crime scene, their confession was enough; the fact that they were young boys was not allowed as an excuse to them lying to the police after intense interrogation. The sad reality that confessions trump any other evidence is why these boys were convicted, because even the timeline did not match up to the estimated time the jogger was attacked, nor did the location. Ultimately, the real perpetrator Matias Reyes did come forward and the 5 men were released, but their lives were never the same.
This film placed an emphasis on the complexities of being a young black male in the criminal justice system, as well as how American react to white women being raped by black boys. The general consensus was anger, as it should be considering the violence of the crime, however it could easily be assumed that history was repeating itself and America was angry because it was a black man that raped a white woman. A journalist from the film spoke how differently interracial rape is handled, as only a few weeks earlier to the central park case a black woman raped by a black man was raped and then thrown off a roof in Brooklyn, but no one seemed to notice that case as much. We even discussed this in class, as “African Americans arrested for raping white women were more likely to be charged with felonies” than cases involving same race rape (Walker, et al., 2018).
Seeing as America has a deeply rooted history of racism, it comes as no surprise but the public condemnation of these boys was, as people pushed for them to get the death penalty, and yet when their innocence was proved the world went silent. Implicit bias likely played a huge part in why this case got so much attention, since “no one is immune from implicit bias or unconscious racism, and these subconscious views may cause individuals to act in ways that result in great harm to others” (Davis, 2018, p.187,). I believe the word unconscious racism is important to evaluate in this particular case, because it is to be expected that people are outraged about the rape and brutal beating of a woman, but their reaction to it once they found out the defendants were black and Hispanic is not unique. This fear of black men even translated to the boys’ families, as people in the black community also took part in fighting for their downfall, only further perpetuating the stereotype that black boys are super-predators, even in their own homes. Worse yet, the boys obviously faced issues in prison, but life after prison did not grant them any peace despite their new title of innocence. Due to most employers’ hesitance to hire convicted criminals and the fact that “sixty percent of ex-offenders remain unemployed after a year”, Raymond Santana got into the drug game (Edelman, p.111, 2017). This in turn creates a cycle of incarceration for minorities, as they are never truly free from the criminal justice system, and all of the factors inside and outside contribute to society seeing them as a criminal.
This documentary contributed greatly to how I am able to perceive the more subtle aspects of racism in modern America. I think it is far easier to examine blatant stereotyping, but this film exposed the implicit biases we all have, and I believe the most striking example of that was comparing the central park case to the Brooklyn rape case and the coverage and outrage they both received. The two cases were quite similar in terms of violence, however the only differences were on the race of the perpetrator and the victim as well as the location of the crime; especially in the 90’s, Brooklyn was not the hipster town it is now, however central park has always been a holy place for New Yorkers, which certainly contributed to the disparity in anger. However, I don’t think this film truly acknowledged that the public’s outrage was justified regardless of who the defendants were, as I personally got very upset learning of the details of the crime, and did at some points forget who was being charged with it. This created a conflict for me, because it became difficult to separate my anger over the fact that this happened to this woman, with my anger that five young boys were wrongfully convicted of a heinous crime and had to suffer through prison and attempt a life outside of prison. The Central Park Five is an important film to watch because it highlights our own implicit biases while also addressing the effects of racism for young black men in the criminal justice system.
Davis, A. J. (2018). Policing the Black man: Arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment. Vintage Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.
Edelman, P. B. (2017). Not a crime to be poor: The criminalization of poverty in America. The New Press.
Walker, S., Spohn, C., & DeLone, M. (2018). The Color of Justice: Race, Ethnicity, and Crime in America. Cengage Learning.