The Central Park Five: Another Example of Institutionalized Racism

I missed the premiere of the Ken Burns film The Central Park Five on PBS last night. It wasn’t until a few people following me on Twitter reached out to me to see if I was watching it, that I remembered that it was due to air. But being caught up in the coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing like most people are, I completely forgot. However, thanks to the magic of the internet, I was able to view the novie in length online.

What I didn’t forget, however, was the volatility of the New York City atmosphere back in 1989 surrounding that case. At the time I was in my freshman year at Indiana University. At that time in New York City things were pretty hot, and racial tension ran high as a result of several cases. For my mother, it was a blessing that her oldest son, was no longer in the city. I was 18-years-old and no longer at risk of dealing with everything a young black male living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn was in jeopardy of experiencing at the time. Yes, even as diverse and liberal as New York City was at the time, for young black males, things weren’t so peachy. Yes, back then the only difference between New York City and Mississippi for young black men, was that unlike Mississippi, it snowed in New York City. Yes, believe it or not, but in New York City there were lynchings.

Listen to Ken Burns discuss his film below:

the-central-park-five-another-example-of-institutionalized-racism-featI don’t know if you remember or ever heard of the case that’s the subject of Burns’ film. Whether you have or haven’t, the film serves as a reminder (or an introduction to some) of how race, and class plays itself out in our flawed criminal justice system. That said, I encourage you to take the time to view the following documentary. In it, you’ll see how a group of teens were wrongfully convicted of the of rape, attempted murder, and assault of a white woman in New York City’s Central Park. The teens in this case were all children of color (yes, allow me to reiterate: they were children!) who were at the mercy of the NYPD and the prosecutor’s office. They were children who through no fault of their own (other than being poor and non-white) lost the innocence of youth by having to spend 7 to 13 years of their lives in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.

Sadly, for people of color and black men in particular, this is all too real; and, more common than one may believe. In this case, what’s most disheartening to know, is that though available DNA evidence would have proven their innocence, it was never introduced in court. And even worse, to this day, the city of New York City refuses to settle pending civil lawsuits for their wrongful convictions in spite of obvious prosecutorial and police misconduct. Honestly, after watching the following film I cried. I figured I would be angry, but what was done to them was so egregious that all I could do was cry. Yes, to me, it was that bad. Unfortunately, The Central Park Five case and others like it at the time were used to advance a tough-on-crime political agenda that resulted in a boost in incarcerations in the 90s that negatively impacts people of color, still to this day.

This via PBS:

Watch The Central Park Five on PBS. See more from Central Park Five.