…The Central Park Five revisits New York City’s recent past to tell the story of a pack of ruthless predators.
Two packs, actually: Gotham’s prosecutors and police officers, and its reporters and columnists. Both groups went feral in 1989 against five innocent Harlem teenagers accused and then convicted in a rape and assault.
If the case doesn’t sound familiar, perhaps this word will help: wilding. That’s what police and journalists claimed was the kids’ term for what they did the night of April 19, 1989. In this film, all five former defendants reflect on what happened — one of them, Antron McCray, is heard but not seen — and none utters that verb. It’s just one of many words that were put into their mouths.
McCray and four other boys — Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond
Santana and Korey Wise — were in the north end of Central Park when a jogger was brutally ambushed. But there was no evidence that they attacked the victim, eventually identified as Trisha Meili, or even that they witnessed the crime. The five’s clothing was unbloodied, and DNA found on Meili’s body did not match any of theirs.
The lack of proof didn’t seem to matter. Five years into the crack wars that roiled American cities in that era, New York wanted a quick resolution, not logic or ambiguity. “In those days, there were probably six murders a day,” notes New York Times reporter Jim Dwyer, one of the film’s expert witnesses.
Historian Craig Steven Wilder discusses the role of racism in this and other miscarriages of justice, while social psychiatrist Saul Kassin explains why people come to accept blame for things they didn’t do — and how bystanders come to believe them.
The most devastating commentator, however, is Dwyer, who details the weakness of the evidence and explains how the prosecutors seduced the press simply with a tidy narrative. “Newspapers,” he drolly observes, “love chronologies.”
—Mark Jenkins, “Rape, Race, And The Press Entangled in ‘Central Park,’” NPR 11/22/12
Maysles Cinema is premiering The Central Park Five tonight and through next week! If you’re in the NYC area, please check out the special screening on Sunday, 11/25! The deets below:
SPECIAL SCREENING OF THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE:
@ the Oberia D. Dempsey Center Auditorium
127 West 127th Street
(between Lenox and Adam Clayton Powell)
Sunday, November 25th, 4:00pm
The Central Park Five
U.S. Theatrical Premiere
Dir. Ken Burns, David McMahon, Sarah Burns, 2012, 119 min.
Film followed by a Q&A with dirs. Sarah Burns and David McMahon and members of the Central Park 5 - Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise.
For more information and where to buy tickets for The Central Park Five, check out the org’s website!