Hope for Central Park Five Under de Blasio

Three of the Central Park Five –  from left, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise, and Kevin Richardson (Raymond Santana is out of the frame) – speaking at  a Q&A following a screening of "The Central Park Five" at the Dempsey Auditorium. (Photo from Maysles Cinema, Creative Commons license)

Three of the Central Park Five – from left, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise, and Kevin Richardson (Raymond Santana is out of the frame) – speaking at a Q&A following a screening of “The Central Park Five” at the Dempsey Auditorium. (Photo from Maysles Cinema, Creative Commons license)

When Bill de Blasio takes over as mayor in 2014, will he settle a decade-long civil suit? For now, the plaintiffs can only hope.

In 2003, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise filed a $250 million civil suit against New York City, including the police and prosecutor involved in the convictions that got them locked up for 12 years. They are known as the Central Park Five – black and Latino teenagers who in 1990 were convicted of the assault and rape of Trisha Meili, a white jogger, that had occurred in Central Park a year earlier. In lieu of DNA evidence, the highly publicized and racially charged case relied heavily on confessions from four of the five that came during lengthy interrogations by police, resulting in the convictions of the 14- to 16-year-old teens.

Then in 2002, the confession of Matias Reyes and DNA evidence that put him at the crime scene lead to their release. A year later, the Central Park Five filed the civil suit. Ten years later, they have yet to receive any kind of settlement from the city.

However, the imminent takeover of the mayoral seat by de Blasio – whose campaign was fueled by criticisms of how incumbent Mayor Michael Bloomberg ran the city – could renew hope for the Central Park Five, especially after Ken Burns, who directed “The Central Park Five,” a documentary on the case released in April 2013, told HuffPost Live on November 12 that de Blasio “has agreed to settle this case.”

Further reporting by Colorlines showed that “agreement,” however, had come in the shape of an old campaign promise: “It’s long past time to heal these wounds,” DeBlasio said in a January 2013 statement. “… As a city, we have a moral obligation to right this injustice. It is in our collective interest—the wrongly accused, their families and the taxpayer—to settle this case and not let another year slip by without action.”

In the meantime while awaiting the mayoral transition, Colorlines‘ Akiba Solomon sat down with one of the five, Yusef Salaam, and asked, among other questions, how he would hold de Blasio accountable for his campaign promise of settling the lawsuit.

Salaam responded:

I don’t know. I think that when we fought in the past we fought on another level. Politics are different and we’re seeing that now. For instance, I’ve never understood what it meant to be judged by a jury of your peers. But the city said something really funny—somebody said [“The Central Park Five”’ film] is poisoning the jury pool. But the jury pool is we the people. If we the people have proper information then we can do our job. If they don’t have proper information, we do what happened in 1989. So the fight now, the struggle is going to be fought and won in the streets. People have power. They have to go to elected officials and be about the change, be about fixing this. We’ve been in this loop for 20 years. … Since the film, I really think we the people are that much more driven in wanting to make sure not just that there’s justice for the Central Park Five but that there will never be another. Yes, we’ve gotten something out our lives back, but we’re still fighting for that final piece. It’s crazy. People ask me all the time, “How do you keep moving after all of this.” Sometimes I feel like I’m having an out-of body experience.

Read the rest of the interview over at Colorlines.

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