In 1989 New York City, crime was common. But when a 28 year old Wall Street Investment Banker was beaten, raped, and left in a coma while jogging in Central Park, five black and Latino teenagers were arrested and convicted. The infamous “Central Park Five” were exonerated after a serial rapist confessed to the crime in 2002, after they had spent six to thirteen years in prison. The case is the focus in a new documentary directed by Sarah Burns. She and one of the five, Raymond Santana, joins Ali to talk about the film and the case.
At the time, New York City was a “city on fire” and the fear of crimes like this continuing, authorities felt the need to point the finger at someone to ease some tensions. Burns says, “It made sense to people and a lot of that had to do with exactly what was going on in New York. The crime rates were extremely high. It was the peak of the murder rate, you’re dealing with the crack epidemic and people were afraid. It’s a different city that it is now and that contributed to people’s fear and their desire to have this solved and solved quickly.”
It makes it hard to see the impact the case had on a then 14 year old Raymond Santana through his constantly beaming smile. But he still worries, he says, “Always having that label of being looked at negative…come into a room and the person looks at you too long, do they recognize me as one of the Central Park Five and if so, is it negative or is it positive?”
The film showcases the facts that existed as well as what the media was feeding to the public. Thought the documentary is being praised for its journalistic integrity, it has its critics too. The Central park Five have filed a case against the NYPD for their wrongful convictions. The City of New York has subpoenaed the film’s outtakes in hopes of bolstering their case. Burns says, “We have refused to turn those things over. We believe we are protected by journalistic privilege, so we filed a motion to quash and we’ll wait for a judge to decide.”