Say Their Names ~ Antwon McCray ~ Kevin Richardson ~ Yusef Salaam ~ Raymond Santana ~ Korey Wise ~ The Central Park Five
Go ahead, say their names — Antwon McCray (15) ~ Kevin Richardson (14) ~ Yusef Salaam (15) ~ Raymond Santana (15) ~ Korey Wise (16). I tell you to say their names because they were dubbed The Central Park 5 from the point at which they were arrested in 1989 and charged with the rape and beating of Trisha Meili, a jogger who was attacked in Central Park. They have names, personalities, desires, and dreams; however, those dreams were crushed by an unstoppable racist machine.
Very few people came to know them as young boys. Mainstream media declared them guilty long before they were able to stand trial. The truth is that they were never able to put up an adequate defense because the deck was stacked against them — as it is in so many cases involving underprivileged Black males.
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Thanks to Ava DuVernay, the story of these young boys, who were forced to grow up in prison, is being told under a new light. In what is an extremely rare occurrence, a new generation has been allowed to observe a narrative the exposes the fallacy of blind and fair justice. If it is true that Lady Justice wears a blindfold, it is to keep from seeing the atrocities that are committed against Blacks incessantly in this country. America parades herself before the world and the ultimate moral judge. She has yet to acknowledge that her slip has been hanging for some time now. The term “your slip is hanging” is an adage that suggests that what you are trying to hide is seen.
What I found interesting about these five young boys, who have since grown into men, is that while they all were stripped of their civil rights and railroaded, their stories and journeys from the date of their arrests are unique. Most notably, Korey suffered far worse than the rest — serving the longest sentence and almost dying in prison. I will not get into the details because I do not want to spoil the story for those who have yet to see the docuseries. They were divided and physically coerced to confess to a crime that they did not do.
It has come to light that evidence that could have cleared them was not turned over to the defense, which is a direct failure under the laws of discovery in any state. Because they didn’t do what they were accused of, their confessions were conflicting, but that did not matter to the prosecution who simply wanted the conviction. These young friends were described as a gang and highly criminalized by the media. Despite there being no evidence linking these kids to the crime, they were tried and convicted.
Not only were the Central Park Five wrongly convicted, but they were also the victims of inflammatory headlines like “WolfPack’s Prey: Female Jogger Near Death After Savage Attack by Roving Gang. The assistant district attorney assigned to the case, Linda Fairstein and her team played loose with the evidence and the presentation of the facts of the case. Fairstein even parlayed her involvement into a new career as an author and crime writer.
What is probably most frustrating to the young men who were robbed of their innocence and freedom is that even after the scientific evidence cleared them, almost all of their accusers stayed on code, even the jogger who was rapped. Even with another person confessing and the DNA evidence speaking to the innocence of these boys, Trisha Meili insists that the police officers, investigators, and prosecutors did not violate the rights of these young men. She suggests that the cash settlement for more than $40 million should not be viewed as an indicator that the police and prosecutors did anything wrong.
If there is one thing that has been consistent throughout this ordeal, it has been the ability of Whites to stay on code despite the overwhelming evidence that diametrically opposes their suggestion of guilt. They have proven there are no limits to how far they will go to criminalize and persecute Black men, regardless of what the evidence suggests.
It is immensely important that those reading this short treatise achieve at least a limited perspicacity of the fact that what transpired in New York City in 1989 was not an anomaly or some sort of geographical phenomenon. What those young men endured was simply a microcosm of a mastodonic systematic failure in the United States justice system as it pertains to Blacks.
We are currently witnessing a parade of Black men being exonerated after serving years in prison for crimes they did not commit — their lives destroyed and their futures unsure.
Donald Trump’s Role in This Injustice
Let’s not forget that the sitting president of this country played a significant role in the villainization of these young men. Trump took out full-page ads in at least four major publications. The ads were printed in huge bold print and read, “Bring Back The Death Penalty Bring Back Our Police. Trump used the short article, written in the first person, to go on a rant, railing about how crime was out of control in the city.
While crime was rampant during this time, as the city battled a drug epidemic, this case was about more than the basic crime statistics. This case was about the weaponization of Whiteness in a manner in which was common based on the fear of sexual violence toward White women by non-Whites. A Yale-educated investment banker had been brutally raped, and everyone had made up their minds that these Black kids had done it. This was Emmett Till 2.0.
There was a trial this time — at least there was an appearance of a trial that in truth was a complete farce. The city wanted blood, and the life of these Black and Latino boys carried little to no value in the cultural scheme of White supremacy and White survival. Trump stoked the fire of hatred much in the same way that he is doing it from the Oval office today.
Some estimate the final settlement reached in 2014 to be as much as $45 million, which is a testament to the magnitude at which the investigators and prosecutors screwed this case up.
It is important that unapologetic Black Media continue to give leverage to the new narrative that sheds the proper light on this injustice. As the CEO and Director of The Odyssey Project and Odyssey Media Group, I will be fighting and pushing against alternative narratives that oppose the truth in its entirety. I am certain that Professor Black Truth, Jason Black, Seiji Hito, Taurean Reign, and others will also fight against any attempts to undercut this new narrative.
Again, it is vital that we understand that we have not escaped manacles of racism on an institutional level. The same machinations that were launched against the Central Park 5 are being used to wrangle our young Black men. It is our responsibility to fight for them as well as properly educate and empower them to fight for themselves. ~ Rick Wallace, Ph.D., Psy.D.
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