The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said ‘Justice delayed is justice denied,’ but for the Central Park Five, justice has come at last.
The New York Times is reporting that the City of New York has agreed to a $40 million settlement in the infamous case. In 1989, five Black and Hispanic teenagers were arrested in Central Park and ultimately convicted of the vicious rape and beating of a jogger, later identified as investment banker Tricia Meili, then 28.
The teens, 14-16 at the time, were convicted due to confessions that they later claimed were coerced by overzealous police detectives. While the teens admitted they were in Central Park near the time of the attack, they denied raping Meili, but the resultant media frenzy around the case led to a witch hunt which presumed the teenagers guilty.
Then accused of “wilding” in the park, the case, in a divided New York City, seemed to confirm the worst fears about young Black and Hispanic men. All five teens were convicted in 1990 and released, four after serving seven years and one after serving 13 years.
In 2002, convicted rapist and murderer Matias Reyes, met one of the Central Park Five while in jail. He confessed to the crime and was a DNA match, which proved he was the lone man who perpetuated the attack on Meili, who had no memory of it.
After their exoneration, Rafael Santana, Yusuf Salaam, Kharey Wise, Antron McCray, and Kevin Richardson pursued a civil rights case against the city, which dragged on for years as the Bloomberg administration fought it, saying they believed that police and prosecutors had “acted in good faith and with cause.”
Mayor Bill DiBlasio, elected last year, said one of his priorities was reaching a settlement in the case. A 2012 documentary, The Central Park Five produced by award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, renewed interest in the case as it was widely believed that although the men had been exonerated, the stigma of the case took its toll on all of them.
Rev. Al Sharpton, who worked with families and supporters to overturn the convictions in the 90’s, says he’s glad that the men have finally been able to enjoy the victory they fought so hard for. “We took a lot of abuse for that, and the toll on these men and their supporters was terrible,” he told the New York Daily News. “I want to know we have things in place so that this doesn’t happen again.”
The proposed settlement equals out to about $1 million for each man for each year they spent in jail, which for Wise would mean that he’ll receive more than any other victorious defendant has in a wrongful conviction case in New York history. According to the Times, settlements of this kind would not usually include any acknowledgement of wrongdoing by the city.
DiBlasio and lawyers for the Central Park Five have yet to comment.
(Photo: YouTube Screenshot from The Central Park Five.)