Guilty Until Proven Innocent

The So-called Central Park Five
The So-called Central Park Five

I am old enough to remember the horrific crime perpetrated against a white female jogger in Central Park in 1989. I also happen to be a resident of East Harlem, the community in which the five black (later convicted) suspects resided. The arrest of those teenagers and the media frenzy that ensued, resulted in a new term getting added to the American lexicon.  Supposedly the teenagers themselves said that they were in Central Park “WILDING.”

A Netflix original mini series When They See Us by Ava Duvernay

On May 31, 2019 Netflix aired a new mini series titled “When They See Us” about the Central Park Five (as they were called). I saw the series which brought me back 1989, in New York City. I’m sure some artistic  license was employed in making this series, but, in my opinion, for the most part the events as depicted were correct.

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These five teenagers, ranging in the ages of (the youngest) fourteen to the oldest (16) were interrogated, coerced and railroaded through a criminal justice system that, especially in New York in 1989, had a propensity for seeing all black and brown people as guilty.

My hat off to the young actors, Asante Blackk as Young Kevin Richardson, Caleel Harris as Young Anton McCray, Ethan Herisse as Young Yusef Salaam, Jharrel Jerome as Korey Wise (young and grown), and Marquis Rodriguez as Young Raymond Santana, portraying the young men wrongfully accused and then convicted for this heinous act.

Ava Duvernay at the 2017 Academy Awards
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA – JANUARY 07: Director Ava DuVernay attends the 2017 Film Independent filmmaker grant and Spirit Award nominees brunch at BOA Steakhouse on January 7, 2017 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)

My highest praise goes to the series creator, writer and director Ava DuVernay for her brilliance in telling this story.

donald-trump-full-page-ad-for-central-park-five
Proud Donald Trump posing with his full page ad advocating for the death penalty for the so called Central Park Five

I remember when Donald Trump took out a full page ad in the New York Times (a news outlet that today as President he calls fake news) advocating for the death penalty be brought back (because of the arrest of these five black young men). It was despicable then, but then after these young men were exonerated and all charges vacated, by the then New York County District Attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, Trump went on to say that the charges should never have been dropped because if they did not commit this crime he was sure they committed some other heinous acts.

Eric Reynolds one of the Arresting Officer of Central Park Five airing on Saturday June 15, 2019
Eric Reynolds one of the Arresting Officer of Central Park Five on CNN’s SMerconish TV show Saturday June 15, 2019

This morning I watched the  Smerconish show on CNN in which the first segment had to do with the Netflix mini series “When They See Us.” His first guest to address the facts of the series was Eric Reynolds, one of the arresting officers involved with the Central Park Jogger case. As can be expected, Mr. Reynolds went on to say that the facts in the mini series were all wrong, that the police did everything by the book and that the confessions presented were voluntarily made by the boys.

Now, just in the past three years how many black, or brown, young men have been killed by over  zealous policemen?  A LOT, to many to list. In fact an entire movement, BLACK LIVES MATTER, sprung up as a result of this very common occurrence. And this is the Twenty First Century, this is just the period 2016 – 2019.

Is it so far fetched to believe that the boys arrested and ultimately convicted for this crime were intimidated, coerced and maybe even beat into confessing? Look, I’m no angel. In my younger days growing up in the drug infested, high crime community of Spanish Harlem, I to had my run in’s with the law. I can tell you of a time when Hernan Badillo was running for Mayor of New York City and I got arrested for drugs. This was a few years before the Central Park Jogger case. Back then there were not to many black or brown cops within the ranks of NYPD. I was beat and yelled upon by the cops. They would say things like just because a spic is running for Mayor don’t mean we aren’t going to treat spics like spics. I remember how many of the kids in my block were busted for drugs that the cops themselves planted. That’s not to say that there weren’t a few good men within the NYDP, but that also does not say there weren’t corrupt, racist jobs either.

Going back to the Smerconish show this morning. A female viewer wrote in a comment stating, something to the effect that in 1989 there were many racist cops in the NYPD. In his reply the host, Michael Smerconish, asked the viewing audience if we noticed the color of his guest, Eric Reynold’s, skin. That is an asinine reply. Yes we noticed that Reynolds was a black officer, AND? How many black officers were there in the NYPD, specifically in the Harlem Central Park precinct?  Odds are that the number was something like fifty to one (50 to 1). The culture on the NYPD, especially back then, was that of an old “Irish/German/Italian” men’s club. The following is from an 1994 article in the New York Times, titled “Police Profile Stays Much The Same

A New York Times survey of 1,077 of the Police Academy’s 2,003 new graduates, along with interviews with others in the class and young officers, suggests that a resilient network of whites, born of the Irish, Italian and German immigrant streams of a much older New York, has built an enduring cultural pipeline into the department.

Fifty percent of the white recruits have a relative who is or was a New York police officer…

I say this to say that just because Reynolds skin tone is black does not exempt him from the pervasive culture within the (1984) NYPD. As the saying goes, when in Rome… Once he picked up his NYPD badge his loyalty was to the “blue wall” not to his black community. Sure he will say that he is a black man and defends black lives, but the fact is that the blue wall was (and for the most, remains) a very real cultural thing within the NYPD.

Growing up in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when America was experiencing a cultural and social revolution, there was a saying that seems apropos here “every brother aint a brother