Decades After the Central Park Jogger Attack, a City Marks Its Mistake

They entered the northeast corner of Central Park one night in 1989 and were later falsely charged with the brutal assault and rape of a woman jogging. Now, five Black and Latino men, who went to prison as teenagers and spent years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit, are being honored by the city, the city will change. the name of the park entrance to them.

It will be called “Gateway of vindication”.

The men, known as Central Park Five, are deleted in 2002. Since then, society has tried to understand and correct an irreparable mistake. The men received $41 million in a settlement with New York City. Their case is the subject of documentary film 2012, Pulitzer Prize-winning opera and a Netflix mini series 2019 discover how far some things can go wrong.

The gate designation is a rare case of a city officially commemorating its huge mistake, admitting it in sandstone, carved into the wall at the point where the teenagers entered the park. on that evening.

The project began three years ago when members of the local community council and members of the Central Park Conservancy, the nonprofit group that administers parks for the city, began discussing possible ways to openly recognize injustice. Final approval came Monday in a vote by the Public Design Commission, the New York City council that oversees the city’s art, including public monuments.

Yusef Salaam, one of the men who was convicted, said in an interview that the gate was a form of vindication, a form he had actually envisioned years ago as a fitting way. to record mistakes.

“Every time people come through the gate and remember what happened here, even after we are gone, our story will enlighten everyone,” he said.

America often marks moments of explosive social injustice with murals, or impromptu memorials created by family and friends. The murders of Amadou Diallo and George Floyd were recognized that way. Much rarer are moments when government agencies use the enduring language of a public space to document their own misdeeds.

Another example cited by experts is the 2015 decision by Chicago legislators to Build a monument honoring more than 125 people who were physically tortured by a former police detective for perjury. The search for funds to create that monument is still underway.

In New York, even before final approval on Monday, conservation agency workers began chiseling away sandstone sections of the wall with pneumatic devices and hand tools. .

“It’s an act of self-marking on a formal level,” says Michele H. Bogart, an art historian specializing in public art.

Many wrongful convictions attract attention, but the jogger convictions have drawn particular attention because of the speed and brutality with which the media and others have smeared teenagers before. when adjudicating.

When their convictions were overturned, the Central Park Five – Salaam, Korey Wise, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray and Kevin Richardson – served between six and 13 years in prison. The admission made during police interrogations was later discredited by duress when an elderly man with no connection to the youth, Matias Reyes, confess the attack. DNA evidence later confirmed that he was the attacker.

Central Park has dozens of entrances, 19 of which have names designated as part of the original 19th-century design, all of which have purposefully broad titles such as Craft Gate, Gate Merchant and Women’s Gate. In 1862, park trustees said the names should “represent the people as a whole” and “give a respectful welcome to every citizen”. The new port will be the first to be named since.

Gate of the Exonerated was previously unnamed; it was a newer entrance that Robert Moses added during his reign as park commissioner in the 1950s when he also added playgrounds and paths leading to greenery.

During discussion ahead of Monday’s vote, several members of the design committee raved about the importance of recognizing injustice. Mary Valverde, a member said: “I feel it is a moment of truth and reconciliation. “It was a gesture not only for the city but also for the whole country to recognize.”

The conservation agency is covering the cost of redesigning the gate, a project it says can cost up to $100,000 if it can’t use its own workers to make the adjustments. A launch ceremony is scheduled for December 19, and the conservation agency is working on additional programs and signage at the park that will help tell the story of what happened to the men. what advocates now call the Five Whites.

Community Board 10, which includes Central Harlem, first proposed creating something in the park to recognize injustice during a meeting organized by the Central Park Conservancy to discuss the improvements to the northern part of the park.

The following year, the board of directors unanimously voted to support installation of a permanent exhibition in memory of wrongly convicted men. Sharonne Salaam, Yusef’s mother, joined, as did the Manhattan district president at the time, Gale Brewer.

“I love statues like ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ but we need more of these types of memorials in the park,” Brewer, now a councilor, said in a phone interview. phone.

The project was approved by 11 other Manhattan community boards before the final design committee vote. While the unanimous approval of community boards is not usually part of the public art review process, Brewer said she requested additional input because she sought seek broad consensus.

Several years ago, Brewer helped build a monument in the park to honor those who fought for the right to vote. criticized for the lack of black women. Civil rights activist Sojourner Truth was later added to the monumentnow located a few blocks south of the Bethesda Fountain.

“I don’t want to go through all that again,” Brewer said.

Over the course of three years, the conservation agency worked with local officials and the city’s Parks & Recreation Department to refine the proposal over several iterations. There was initially some talk of creating a monument but officials later decided to designate an entry point where people move in and out of the park, an echo marker for those man has unjustly lost his freedom.

Officials described the decision as a unique response to the appalling consequences of a horrific crime that has now become part of the park’s history.

“It’s not a routine thing,” said John Reddick, the reserve’s community director. “We won’t go around naming other gates.”

Although public monuments have become a hotbed in recent years, supporters of the gate project say it encountered little opposition during the approval process. Ken Frydman, a former adviser to the Central Park Conservancy, issued an objection, who published an opinion in Daily News questioned whether the runner’s name should be included in any commemoration.

The runner, Trisha Meili, has not publicly commented on the gate’s dedication.

“We only focused on the experience of the Five Witnesses,” said Karen H Sorry, 10th Community Parks and Recreation committee chair. Unfortunately, there are many stories like theirs where people have to endure the same injustices.”

Cicely Harris, chair of the 10 Community Committee, said: “We do not overlook the gravity of the crime; We are highlighting another injustice.

For Salaam, the gate is a sign of respect. “This is about acknowledging something that should never have happened,” he said. “The Gate is just one example of healing, and how continuous our path to healing is.”


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