by Saeed Shabazz
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call
NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – Three men who are part of the “Central Park 5” rallied on the steps of City Hall, along with family members and supporters in early February calling on new Mayor Bill De Blasio to make good on a campaign promise to settle an 11-year-old civil lawsuit stemming from wrongful convictions of the young men.
They were teenagers when erroneously jailed for attacking, beating and raping a White female jogger in Central Park in 1989. The case drew national and international attention and was the subject of a documentary released by filmmaker Ken Burns last year.
The press conference was called by Brooklyn Councilwoman Inez Barron and the Brooklyn-based grassroots December 12th Movement. “Out of a tale of two cities, one rich and White and another Black and unjust, comes a possible resolution to this case,” said the December 12th Movement in a statement.
“An attempt to move toward settlement, a movement toward the only legitimate approach for justice to these now men and their families … Central Park 5 got To Get Paid,” said the organization.
“I have found that what is said is often not concluded. I call on legislators to demand a settlement,” said Councilwoman Barron. The only state legislator at the press conference, Harlem State Senator Bill Perkins, added, “We now look to see what a new mayor who has captured the phrase of injustice will do.”
Mayor Bill De Blasio stated during his daily press conference shortly before the Feb. 4 rally he plans to move toward a “swift settlement.” Calls for comment from the mayor by The Final Call were not returned.
Federal Magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis granted a 30-day stay in proceedings Jan. 20 to allow time to work towards a settlement. Media reports say plaintiffs Yusuf Salaam, Khorey Wise, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray and Kevin Richardson filed a $250 million lawsuit.
This film image released by Sundance Selects shows accused rapist Yusef Salaam being escorted by police in New York in 1990. Salaam is the subject of the documentary, “The Central Park Five,” about the 1989 case of five black and Latino teenagers who were convicted of raping a white woman in Central Park. Photo: AP/Wide World photos
However, one of the attorneys on the case, Michael Tarif Warren, declined to discuss a dollar figure with reporters. “A settlement would have to include a substantial financial payment from the city,” he said. “There is no amount of money that can erase the scars they have endured, an amount that is commensurate to the damage that has been done to them and their families.”
On April 19, 1989 a White female later identified as Trisha Melli was found unconscious, badly beaten, raped and partially unclothed in Central Park. The five Black and Latino teens Salaam, 15, Santana, 14, Wise, 16, Richardson, 14, and McCray, 15, were arrested outside of the park and reportedly questioned without their parents or attorneys.
Their families said police coerced disjointed videotaped confessions.
Mr. Salaam was convicted of first degree rape and robbery and served six and a half years. Mr. Richardson convicted as a juvenile of second degree attempted murder, first degree sodomy, first degree rape and first degree robbery, and served six and a half years. Mr. Santana served eight years, convicted of first degree rape and robbery. Mr. McCray convicted as a juvenile of first degree rape and robbery served six years.
Mr. Wise served 11 and a half years, convicted as an adult on charges of first degree sexual assault, first degree assault and first degree riot.
In 2002, the Manhattan district attorney asked that all convictions be overturned due to a confession from Matias Reyes, a known serial rapist.
“People to this day think we had some kind of involvement with something that happened in Central Park,” stated Mr. Salaam. “We were innocent witnesses.”
While the three members of the Central Park 5 were reluctant to rehash troubles faced since release from prison and exoneration, Mr. Salaam’s mother, Sharrone Salaam recalled years of pain.
“It’s not the kind of thing that you can take a bath and it goes away,” Ms. Salaam said. “The media created an atmosphere that no White woman was safe in this city,” she added. The police controlled the story, they created the story, Ms. Salaam said.
Media headlines after the attack screamed words like “Wilding” and “Wolf Pack” to describe the assault the teens never committed. Millionaire developer Donald Trump took out full-page ads in four newspapers calling for reinstatement of the death penalty, so the five could be executed.
“Everyone in Harlem didn’t believe they were innocent—people spit on me, and crossed the street when I approached—there are still people today who don’t believe they had nothing to do with that rape,” Ms. Salaam said.
While none of the politicians attending the press conference offered additional public actions going forward, Carl Dix, co-founder of the October 22 Coalition against Police Brutality and Criminalization of a Generation, told The Final Call Feb. 26 will be a day for a national mobilization, “Out in the Streets for Trayvon Martin: Hoodies Back Up,” where the Central Park 5 settlement would also be part of the protest agenda.
“We must fight for the settlement, cannot let people go to sleep because the mayor said he wants a swift settlement,” Mr. Dix said. There is a straight line between the Central Park 5 and targeting of Black men through the creation of the infamous NYPD Street Crime Unit that killed African immigrant Amadou Diallo in 1999, the city’s illegal stop and frisk policy targeting Black and Latino males and the hiring of Bill Bratton as police commissioner by the new mayor, he said.