In 2014, the City of New York paid a $41 million settlement to the now middle-aged men known as the Central Park Five for wrongfully convicting them of the rape and attack of a white female jogger. Yet, 30 years after their case, the men say the money has done nothing to quell their traumatic experiences.
“I mean, it made it better where we were able to – relocate, put our children in better situations,” Raymond Santana said. “But besides that, no.”
In 1989, Santana, along with Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray and the oldest among them 16-year-old Korey Wise were coerced and often beaten, by the NYPD during intense interrogation. The teens’ parents weren’t present.
The five men say they were told to confess to the crime (although they weren’t told what the crime was) simply to get the police to stop assaulting them.
“As soon as we get in, they separate us and they start working on us, and I’m hearing Korey being physically beaten in the next room and I’m immediately beyond afraid,” Salaam said to CBS.
Richardson said at the time his mother had diabetes, suffered a stroke and left the police station. When asked what took place during her absence, Richardson responded: “What didn’t happen?”
The men are the subject of Ava Duvernay’s newest project When They See Us. The Netflix four-part miniseries examines their lives and the case from their perspective. The Oscar-nominated filmmaker said the purpose of the project is to challenge.
“My goal was to humanize boys and now men who are widely regarded as criminals, and in doing that, to invite the audience to re-interrogate everyone that they define as a criminal.”
Four of the five teens served about seven years in juvenile detention centers. Wise, who was the oldest, was tried as an adult and sent to Rikers Island where he served 13 years. Donald Trump, then just working in real estate, took out full-page ads in New York newspapers calling for deaths of the teens.
When Matias Reyes, who ironically was in prison with Wise, confessed to the crime (and DNA evidence corroborated his statement), Trump still alleged the five men were guilty. He also called the settlement “ridiculous.”
Today, the men say their past experience is with them regularly.
“Life lessons for me is just truth, truth,” McCray says. “I preach to my kids, ‘Just tell the truth. Be true to who you are.’ Honestly, the last time I lied, got me seven and a half years for something I didn’t do. So I’ll always preach that.”
When They See Us will stream on Netflix May 31.