Disclaimer~This posts gives some details about the movie that may be unwanted. I would advise you to watch, if you please, before reading. If you choose to continue, enjoy.
Central Park Five ~ The Story
On the night of April 19, 1989, Trisha Meili, at the time, a 28-year-old investment banker, was found brutally beaten and raped in Central Park, New York City while on her nightly jog. Police found themselves attempting to do their job by searching for the people responsible for the attack against Meili, who suffered from skull fractures among other life-threatening injuries.
911 calls were made reporting a group of about 30 teenagers, between the ages of 14 and 17, “wilding” through the park harassing people. The police decided to link the group of teens to the attack. Among the group were, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Jr., Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, and Kharey Wise, who would later change his name to Korey Wise.
These young men, who ranged from the ages of 14 and 16, went through HOURS of interrogation. Claims from the men included the interrogators not providing them with food, water, or sleep during that time. To top off the investigation, the police questioned these minors without their parents or legal guardian present. In the end, they confessed to the crime.
A trial was held with the videotaped and written confessions being inconsistent, without any physical evidence, no eyewitnesses, and no DNA matches connecting them to the attack. The trial was split between the five of them.
During the trials, Meili took the stand and stated she had no recollection of what happened to her. Yet and still, the boys were found guilty, collectively, of rape, assault, robbery, riot, attempted murder, sodomy, and sexual abuse. McCray, Santana, Salaam, and Richardson were all sentenced to 5 to 10 in a juvenile facility, being they were under the age of 16. Wise was tried as an adult and sentenced to 5 to 15 years in state prison.
In 2002, after 4 of the 5 young men completed their time, Matias Reyes, an already convicted murderer and rapist, confessed to the assault against Meili, after finding Jesus and wanting to confess his sins. Wise was still serving his time sentence and was released after Reyes gave details of the brutal attack. Reyes’ DNA was also tested and found to be a match taken from the crime scene. He could not be tried for the case because the statute of limitations had expired.
After the confession and findings regarding Reyes and the attack against Meili, the, now, men who were known as the “Central Park Five” were exonerated from the charges placed on them 12 years prior.
“When They See Us” ~ The Movie
Part One of the series on Netflix, directed by Ava DuVernay, opened with different accounts of the five young men and how they became mixed in with a crowd of 30 teenagers reported “wilding out” through the neighborhood and Central Park. Some of the teenagers were picked up after they were found assaulting a man under a bridge.
The scene is moved to the crime scene of the rape and assault of Trisha Meili. During a briefing at the precinct, Linda Fairstein, who was head of the investigation, called for the team to not only get any kind of information they could from the teenagers already held in custody, but to flood the streets to find all the boys out in the park the previous night.
There were many hard scenes to watch in this series, but the first scenes on my list was when the interrogations from the detectives. The actors portrayed the “Central Park Five” excellently. You could tell these young men were terrified and just wanted to go home and were willing to do whatever necessary to do so. From the interrogations, I started to not finish the series and this was in the first thirty minutes. I continued because I had already done research on the case and formed in my mind what happens in the end. But what was hard to witness was the process they had to go through.
Part Two of the series, showed the trial and how it not only affected the boys, but the people connected to them, who stood behind them the most, their family. It even showed an encounter between Antron McCray and his father after he showed up to the trial for the first time since it started. It was hard to see their relationship unfold after the detectives somewhat threaten McCray’s father into pushing his son to just confess and “tell them what they want to hear”. The father even takes the stand in court and explains the incident.
In the end, all of the young men are found guilty and sentenced. The series illustrated the boys reactions as well as their families outstandingly. I could already feel for them, but those scenes made me feel for them even more. It was literally heart-wrenching and brought me to tears.
Part Three focused on Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Jr., Yusef Salaam, and Kevin Richardson. It depicted their lives in the juvenile center and after they are released. It showed these men, who spent an ample amount of time in jail, attempt to live life somewhat normally. They aim to get jobs, repair and form new relationships, and continue life in the free world. I believe all of them knew it was not going to be easy, but they survived and strived to conquer it.
Part Four, to me, was the toughest part to watch of them all. It focused on Korey Wise as he is tried at 16 as an adult and sent through the adult prison system. Not saying any of their situations were better or worse than the other, but the way this series took us down his road, particularly, was heartbreaking. It took us through every emotion, horrendous act against him, death of his brother, and, eventually, his release after Matias Reyes confessed to the crime he spent 12 years in jail for. It also made me ultimately wonder about the prison systems around the world and how it takes a toil on these men and women, boys and girls, young and old.
How It Affected Me
When I saw the trailer for this series, I started to research the story so I could dive in already knowing the main pieces of the case. My research would never prepare me for the visual of what these men went through before the conviction and even after being exonerated. I feel like I cried through this entire series and that’s something I can truly say I have never done in any movie.
I precisely placed myself in the shoes of everyone depicted from the boys, to their mothers, to the court system, to the jury, to the detectives. It was almost impossible not to think about my boys being in the shoes of the young boys of the “Central Park Five”. It pained me to even remotely think about my boys being teenagers and deciding to just hang out with their friends in a park to being convicted of rape, assault, robbery, riot, attempted murder, sodomy, and sexual abuse. It hurt me to think about men and women in the legal system, who I advise my children to trust and believe in to protect them to accuse them of crimes they did not commit and coerce them into making false statements against themselves, their friends, and boys they didn’t even know.
After the men are exonerated, in a civil suit, they are awarded, among them, 41 million dollars, which I believe there is no amount of money to cover the time they spent away from their families, the lies told on them, the looks people gave them, and the paid ads placed to “Bring Back The Death Penalty”. I’m happy the men were cleared of all charges for crimes they did not commit, but why did it take 12 years? The statistics for exonerated cases in the US are extremely high in numbers. “The Innocence Project” gives fast facts for these cases here.
This series was a wake-up call for me to be even more mindful of our world, the judicial system, and the future of our children, my children. There’s already so many other things going on in the world with young and old being murdered or killed by the people who take the oath to protect us. I work as part of that same judicial system everyday and know for a fact every member of the system is not the same, but what do we do when we encounter someone who takes that oath of protection and use it against the people they are to protect. What do I tell my children besides, “just do what they say” and how do I know someone will not use that same phrase against them to win in the end? What do I tell them? All I can do is pray.
What were your thoughts on the movie? Did they do a good job in visualizing the story?