‘THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE’
9 p.m. EDT Tuesday
No video cameras captured the “wolf pack” of teenagers that swept through Central Park beating and harassing New Yorkers on April 19, 1989.
But cameras were on later at the precinct where police were booking the youths they’d picked up for unlawful assembly. The black-and-white NYPD images from that night show scared black and Hispanic teenagers waiting for their parents to show up and take them home.
Then a 28-year-old white jogger was found raped and near death in the park, setting in motion one of the most spectacular failures of American justice in recent memory.
“The Central Park Five,” documentarian Ken Burns’ collaboration with his daughter and son-in-law, takes us back to the ugly racial reality of New York City in the late ’80s, the days of crack and “subway vigilante” Bernhard Goetz, when no one felt safe.
Craig Steven Wilder, an African-American historian, describes his reaction to hearing the news about the jogger: “Oh please, don’t let it be us.”
Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise ended up going to trial because they were the most naive among the kids rounded up that night and the next morning. They were the ones whose parents didn’t push back, who didn’t know that cops have carte blanche to lie during interrogations. (Never talk to the police without a lawyer. Just never.)
Eventually, they made a series of statements that never matched up with reality — or their co-defendants’ versions of the story. Detectives told them they would be witnesses and promised them that they could go home.
“He just fed it to me. ‘What did he do? What did Antron McCray do?’” recalls Santana, who was 14 at the time. “He gave me the names, I put ’em in. I couldn’t tell you who they were, who they looked like. If he would’ve gave me a hundred names, I would have put a hundred people at the crime scene.”