Netflix’s highly anticipated limited series, Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us” is now out. It chronicles the story of the infamous Central Park Five case: how five teenage boys of color from Harlem were wrongly convicted of the rape of a white woman in 1989 and their 25-year fight for justice.
In the United States, false confessions play a role in about one in four wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence. The confessions often come forth following hours of interrogation, resulting in a statement of guilt put on paper in front of the investigating detectives or on videotape.
Yusef Salaam was one of the five teenagers falsely convicted in the brutal rape of a white woman in Central Park in 1989. The convictions were overturned in 2002, when a serial rapist confessed to the crime, but Salaam had already served his full 5½-year term in prison. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Salaam about his experience and the impact it had on his life. In person, Salaam carries a dignified, purposeful, and positive aura. He seems to be using his situation as an opportunity to help youth by sharing his message with them.
An imperfect film reminds Americans of chilling crime and those wrongfully convicted
It’s often said that the more you know about something, the less you are apt to like a film about it. So let me state up front that I was living in New York City (in a single room occupancy hotel not far from Central Park, in fact — I went running in the park almost every day), in 1989, so I remember the Central Park jogger case quite well. In fact, if you lived in the city at the time, it was almost impossible not to hear about the case, including the controversy over the treatment of the young men arrested and later convicted of this crime. The case also received nationwide coverage, as did the fact that someone else later confessed to the crime, and that the Five’s convictions were overturned in 2002. Apparently most Americans don’t know much about this case, however, and they may be better served than I was by The Central Park Five, a new documentary by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon.