The Central Park Five (2012)

Posted: March 14, 2014 in Documentary
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central_park_fiveIn 1989, five teenagers were surprised to get caught up in a rape and assault case. A young, white woman had being jogging in Central Park at night when she was attacked and left for dead. After she was discovered and taken to the hospital with serious injuries, the police jumped to action to track down the assailant(s). Five young men were identified and taken into questioning by different police units. Each of them were pressured and held under custody until they were coerced into ratting out the other suspects in the case. All five of the men were detained and taken to trial under the pressure of a scornful media and public looking for justice for the young woman. While there were also supporters for the convicted young men, the justice system appeared to be misguided in its decisions to find these men guilty in the face of evidence to the contrary.

The Central Park Five: Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Kharey (Korey) Wise

Other significant members of the story: Matias Reyes, Jim Dwyer, Angela Black, Ed Koch, Craig Steven Wilder, LynNell Hancock, Raymand Santana Sr., Calvin O. Butts III, Natalie Byfield, Michael Warren, Saul Kassin, Michael Joseph, David Dinkins, Ronald Gold

This documentary by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon explored the tragedy of misguided justice in the case of the attacked Central Park jogger. The Central Park Five started with the attack but was quickly about the manhunt, interrogation, and conviction of the five teenagers. The film included video of the interrogations and the reactions of the convicted years later. Their families were devastated by feeling left in the dark about their involvement in the case and the subsequent convictions, and the convicted struggled with reflecting back on their experiences. These coerced confessions were never challenged in the courts, as the officers were able to deny that they forced the young men into their confessions.

Transitioning to the trial, the reflections highlighted the challenges of the legal teams and the veracity of the prosecution. Three of the men were taken to trial first and were subsequently found guilty. The other two followed suit several months later and also given the guilty verdict. Even though they had minor status, their prison terms ranged from 6 to 13 years. Some of the challenges that were identified against these men during the trial were the inability of the victim to recall the events of that night, the lack of questioning about the coerced confessions, the lack of attention to their involvement in other chaos that happened the same night in a different part of the park, and the seemingly public acceptance that these men were guilty based off their appearance/race and media influence. Highlight as one of the most challenging moments of the experience and the documentary was just after the verdict. Each of the men reacted at different moments, but all of them appeared to break down following the decisions.

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The story also covered the experience following the trial, from serving their sentences to the eventually discovery of Matias Reyes’s confession for the crime. Including the pressures politically to take a hard stance on crime, the public believed that justice had been served. It was not until most of them served out their sentences and only Raymond Santana remained in prison that Reyes’s confession caused the review of the court decisions. Finally at this point, the courts reviewed the evidence and discovered the significant discrepancies in the justifications for the verdicts. The charges were vacated and Raymond was given the news that he would be released as well. The emotion experienced by these men in the film was tangible. They had suffered through a horrendous experience. No decision or other offerings would ever be able to relieve the years lost through this case, but the announcement was joined by a strong sense of release.

This film is detailed, emotional, and calls into question the battle between justice and prejudice. It explores, though only on a surface level, the impact of race and stereotyping in the pursuit of justice. Overall, this was a solid retelling of this intriguing criticism of the police, media, and legal systems.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5

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