Filmmaker Ken Burns Says New Mayor Bill DeBlasio Will Settle With The Central Park Five
Starting on some good news today. And this is not only good news, but welcome news. These men need closure, and they more than deserve justice for what happened to them: losing their good names, their sense of self and peace of mind, and years out of their lives resulting from the hysteria and lies of that time. Don’t get me wrong, I strongly dislike rape and rapists; but even more, I dislike rape frame-ups, especially of men of color. An individual—a man as well as a woman—can be against both.
The news broke yesterday during an interview conducted by The Huffington Post‘s Josh Zepps with filmmaker Ken Burns. Burns was being interviewed about his new “Learn the (Gettysburg) Address” project, when someone e-mailed a question about the status of the five men who were wrongly accused and convicted of raping a female jogger in Central Park in the 1990s, touching off a landslide of hatred against black and brown male youth.
“Bill de Blasio, the mayor-elect, has agreed to settle this case, and though this is justice delayed way too long, and that is justice denied, [they] will not only be exonerated … but they will have justice, they will see some closure, they will be able to be made whole,” Burns said.
Burns joined HuffPost Live last year before the film’s release with one of the exonerated members of the Central Park Five. Burns said then of New York City’s refusal to settle the 10-year-old case, “the city has put molasses into the system,” and that 10 years later “this is still an open wound that we continue to pick the scab on.”
I should say so. Throughout Mayors Dinkins’, Giuliani’s and Bloomberg’s tenures, there was a concerted effort to stonewall getting to the truth of what really happened for political motives. And then when the Five were exonerated through DNA evidence, prosecutors and police refused to admit glaring errors by Assistant District Attorney Linda Fairstein and her office, and to pay damages. The justice system even attempted to block the release of the film, The Central Park Five, earlier this year, stating that the filmmakers—Ken Burns, his daughter, Sarah, and her husband, David McMahon—were in possession of outtakes and footage that would prove their side of the story.
As the New York City media, public, and law enforcement all bought into the story back in the 90s, the boys’ names were dragged through the mud. The case carried heavy racial overtones: Four of the boys (now men) are black, one is Latino, and their advocates say race was a major contributing factor in the public’s willingness to believe they were responsible.
“The shame is,” one of the Five, Yusef Salaam, told the Huffington Post last year, “you know you didn’t do it. You can’t prove that you didn’t do it, with the exception of your word. And everyone else thinks you did.”
The civil suit the Five have filed is worth $250 million dollars. The next hearing on the case, set without de Blasio’s interference, is scheduled for January 21.
No, I don’t believe the Five probably won’t be paid that amount. Instead, they will be paid enough to live comfortably for the rest of their lives in relative peace and without want. For example, one of the Five, Korey Wise, already possessed intellectual and emotional deficits when he was accused, yet he was kept in solitary confinement for the duration of his imprisonment. Wise’s stretch was five years longer than all the other young men. As a result, he is permanently disabled. Wise will need supervision and assistance for the rest of his life.
If this story from Ken Burns is true (and I don’t doubt that it is), it signals a willingness by Mayor-elect Bill DeBlasio, himself the German and Italian father of a black (really, biracial) son, to redress and resolve notorious cases involving miscarriages of justice towards blacks and Latinos. That, among other reasons like rescinding stop and frisk, and addressing income disparity, is why DeBlasio is mayor now. I hope this guy continues to walk it like he talks it. I look forward to early next year to see the final scenes of this horrible tragedy in class as well as race played out.
- De Blasio vows to settle Central Park Five lawsuit, Ken Burns says (pix11.com)
- Central Park Five Lawsuit: New York City Mayor-Elect Bill De Blasio Agrees To Settle Decade-Long Case Over Wrongful Convictions (goodblacknews.org)
- Ken Burns says Bill de Blasio agrees to settle ‘Central Park Five’ suit (thegrio.com)
- Justice May Be Ahead For Central Park 5, But What About Key Police Reform? (gothamgazette.com)
- De Blasio Transition; 60 Minutes Apology; Ken Burns; Babies’ Morals (wnyc.org)