*PBS will air the latest Ken Burns documentary “Central Park Five” on April 16, to be followed the next day with an online discussion featuring the filmmakers and all five of the exonerated men, streamed live by The New York Times.
The film tells the story of the five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in New York City’s Central Park in 1989. Directed and produced by Burns, David McMahon and Sarah Burns, the film chronicles the Central Park Jogger case, for the first time from the perspective of the five teenagers whose lives were turned upside down.
“Back in 1989, we was 14, 15, 16 years old and our voices were stolen from us in the process,” said Raymond Santana, one of the Central Park Five, during TCA interviews for the film in January. “Throughout this whole 15, 20 year period, you never really heard from us. There was interviews that were done here and there, but nothing to this magnitude. And so this was the perfect opportunity for us to finally put our voices out there and for you the viewer to connect with us on a whole different level and for you to see us as human beings.”
Santana was wrongly convicted along with co-defendants Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise. The five confessed to the rape and beating of Trisha Meili following many hours of harsh interrogation by veteran homicide detectives. The police announced that the young men had been part of a gang of teenagers who were out “wilding,” assaulting joggers and bicyclists in Central Park that evening. The press, fomenting at the mouth for juicy crime stories, ate it up like candy and churned out stories that stirred the public’s call for justice. The teens were tried as adults and convicted of rape, despite inconsistent and inaccurate confessions, DNA evidence that excluded them, and no eyewitness accounts that connected any of them to the victim. The five served their complete sentences, between 6 and 13 years, before another man, serial rapist Matias Reyes, admitted to the crime in 2002, and DNA testing supported his confession.
A year later, the men filed civil lawsuits against the City of New York, and the police officers and prosecutors who had worked toward their conviction. That lawsuit remains unresolved.
On April 17, from 6:30 – 8:00 pm ET, viewers of “The Central Park Five” will have an opportunity to continue the conversation with “Justice and The Central Park Five,” a live TimesTalks discussion hosted by The New York Times. Participants will include Ken and Sarah Burns, Jim Dwyer, the New York Times columnist who covered the Central Park Jogger case and is featured in the film, and the five exonerated men.
Santana, now pushing 40, says being able to talk about his ordeal during these post-screening discussions has helped him to heal.
“After each one of these screenings, you know, there are people upset and people crying and they want to come up and they just want to talk to us and they want to apologize,” he told us. “And overall the response has been very healing. It’s been very therapeutic for the five of us, you know, when we do come out.”
The TimesTalks discussion will be streamed live online at nytimes.com/cityroom. You can also follow the conversation on Twitter using #cp5. The full film will be streamed online at http://video.pbs.org/ through May 1.
Below, Santana says he emerged from his experience resenting the media for its role in fanning the flames of their conviction, while remaining eerily silent when they were cleared.
Watch the trailer for PBS’ “Central Park Five” below.