Saturday, April 20, 2013

THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE: A Cautionary Tale


As I sit and watch the events in Boston, I cannot help but think about THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE, the Ken Burns documentary that played last week on PBS (and is available for free viewing online). The film was nominated for the Film Independent Spirit Award as well as the International Documentary Association's Award. And I think it was a better film that the one that won the Oscar this year.

In 1989, the New York police announced, and national media broadcast, the fact that they had captured a gang of young men who had raped a woman in Central Park. It's odd; if the police say it, and the media broadcast it, people assume it to be true, even though none of the facts in the case made any sense, including the fact that none of their DNA matched the DNA recovered.

Why were they convicted? They confessed. Why would someone confess to a crime they did not do? Because they were teenagers, they didn't know any better. Because their parents told them do whatever it takes for the police to let you go. Because they were tortured. The film does not use the word torture, but that's essentially what happened. These kids were picked up late at night, already exhausted, and questioned for 24-30 continuous hours, given no food, no water, no bathroom breaks, no opportunity to move around. After that much physical exhaustion, hunger and dehydration, anyone will say anything. (Their false confessions point out how useless torture is.)

This week we watched the media repeatedly release false information about the bombers. This only makes me question whether they finally have the correct people. They might, and hopefully they do, but police have been known to make mistakes, and they might have the wrong person (although extremely unlikely after the lengthy pursuit). It's a shame that this doubt will always linger, but one only has to look at the NY Post and CNN this week for how much false information floats around, and how people will believe anything they see on TV. I honestly got more credible reports from my Facebook feed than I did from the national media.

In any case, the film is worth viewing. These kids spent years in prison for crimes they did not commit, and if they had been adults, they would have gotten the death penalty.
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