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.”
After the Stockton shooting in 1989, it took five years to pass the first assault weapons law. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut is determined to get effective change following the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. He stopped by to discuss his plan with Soledad.
His plan starts with the basics that have been discussed time and time again when we are faced with a tragedy involving guns. He says, “It begins with common sense on a ban on assault weapons of the type that was used in this horrific massacre as well as high-capacity magazines, also enabling this killing to take place. Better background checks, right now only 60% of all sales involve any background checks. And, of course, keeping guns out of the hands of deranged people.”
The president had choice words at a press conference recently, declaring, “I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. We won’t prevent them all, but that can’t be an excuse not to try.”
Following the president’s lead, Senator Blumenthal has already started working on legislation, “Senator Feinstein and I have moved ahead forcefully with action even during this period of mourning because we need to bring together the movement in the community…I think that we are at a historic moment,” he says.
However determined, he is also realistic. His bottom line is that an attempt needs to begin and he is confident that he will follow through. “But there’s no one single, simple solution to this problem. And nothing that will prevent all of them perhaps, but as the president said so forcefully yesterday and Sunday night at the vigil where he spoke so powerfully to the families and first responders, we need to try. We need to do something,” he says.
There are only 12 days left until the country reaches the fiscal cliff and we still don’t have a decision. Today the House Republicans will vote on Speaker Boehner’s “Plan B.”
Senator John Barrasso, Republican from Wyoming, tells Soledad what he sees for the country’s future.
He says, “53 democrats have already voted to support that in the senate earlier this year so I think it’s wrong for the president to say he’s going to veto it. It’s an opportunity to make permanent the lower tax rates for 99% of Americans. So, I think the House as leader Boehner said, will pass it today.”
The failure to reach a compromise has been surrounded by all sorts of rumors involving taxes. Senator Barrasso explains the House’s, as well as his, main goal with Plan B as, “I think we shouldn’t raise taxes on anyone. But, if we can make permanent these lower tax rates for 99% of all Americans, I think that’s a responsible thing to do and the president ought to embrace it.”
Ending the season with six wins and eight losses, the struggling New York Jets have some changes to make. Mark Sanchez already benched, backup quarterback Tim Tebow is overlooked for third string, Greg McElroy. “Tim can play […] I just kind of made a decision that in my gut I feel that the best thing for our football team is for Greg to be our quarterback now,” head coach Rex Ryan said at a press conference. Wall Street Journal sports columnist Jason Gay stops by the set with details.
Brought on to up the ante, Tebow was not even given the opportunity to shine, let alone play, “We’re talking about a football team that is 6-8 and is not going to go to the playoffs this year for the second consecutive year. But the Jets are the story and it’s because of Tim Tebow who is this intensely polarizing player who electrified the country as a member of the Denver Broncos.”
Frustrated and fed up, rumors swirl that Tebow is requesting to be traded. “The thing that’s so unusual is that they’re just not even taking the car out for a drive. They’re not even really trying it. They’re not giving Tebow the chance. That’s the strange part of the whole thing, Gay says.”
President Obama joined the Newtown, Connecticut community last night to comfort the families of the victims. He vowed to, “use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.”
Steven Barton survived the Aurora, CO theatre shooting to see this tragic event in his own hometown. He says, “We have basically heard the same message after Aurora, after Tucson, and those words weren’t followed by any action. I mean, he spoke more forcefully last night, but it remains to be seen if anything will actually come of those words.”
Hit with 25 shotgun pellets in his face, neck, and chest, he now works as the Outreach and policy associate for Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
If he could begin the process today, Barton states he would start with background checks. “Currently 40% of guns sold in this country under federal law aren’t subject to a background check. There’s been a lot of talk about high cap magazines, assault weapons. But if you want to reduce the 34 Americans murdered with guns every single day, background checks are the easiest way to do that and the simplest way to do that,” he says.
Sebastian Junger has made a name for himself as a journalist. After years of being out in the field, he veered towards writing fiction. He chats with Soledad about his new e-book, “A World Made from Blood.”
The man behind the books “The Perfect Storm” and “War” and Oscar nominated documentary “Restrepo,” channeled one of his earliest war experiences for his new e-book. After covering civil wars for a few years, Junger headed to Sierra Leone for his first war in Africa. A run in with rebel forces had him terrified, “I was at a situation at a checkpoint. We were stopped by rebel forces, stepped out of the jungle and stopped us for about fifteen minutes. It seemed like they were going to kill everybody.”
Surviving Sierra Leone, Junger drew from his personal experience and took it a step further to develop his new e-book about an American journalist in a war torn country in Africa, “Several years later I kept thinking about being in that really traumatic episode and thought, I want to write a piece of fiction that goes to what happened with me and keeps going.”
Though writing fiction allows him to explore what would have or could have happened, Junger is serious about protecting journalists from the possibilities. “The first war I was in, in Bosnia in ’93, I went there with a backpack, sleeping bag, and notebooks. That’s how I broke in. I didn’t have an assignment,” says Junger, “In the Arab Spring, it’s wide open for young people and that’s why mortality rates sore high.”
From his own personal experiences and the loss of his photographer and friend Tim Hetherington while out in the field, the veteran journalist began an organization, Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues, RISC, to provide free combat medical training to freelance war reporters.
The documentarian says, “It goes to the dangers of the job. In the last year, more journalists have been killed this past year than several previous years combined. It’s incredibly dangerous now.”