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“The Central Park Five” — Net-flick of the week

The true story of how the justice system can default on its responsibility and create injustice

Staff Writer

Published: Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, November 5, 2013 20:11

“The Central Park Five,” directed by Ken Burns, is a chilling documentary about the injustice that occurred within the New York Court system in late 1980s, early ‘90s. Amidst an air of racial tension and gross class divides, five young teenagers (aged 14-16) were accused, tried and convicted of the rape and assault of a female jogger.

         Police officers and the justice system committed the crime of coercing impressionable teens to admit to a crime they didn’t have any part in, offering a way out if they simply pointed the finger at the other “offenders.”

         Eloquently put by Jim Dwyer, who at the time of the attack and trial was a columnist with New York Newsday but now he works at the New York Times, detectives “climbed the ladder of facts,” putting together falsified confessionals full of inconsistencies within the details of separate confessionals on who did what.

         Media sensationalism, as well as the quantity of coverage in this particular case, is due to the interracial nature of the crime. The media was far from impartial, and they portrayed the boys as poster children of a movement called “wilding” in which large groups of teens get together to assault others and cause mischief.

         The documentary suggests that, with no DNA evidence and stories that lacked consistency, a group of five teens were sentenced for a crime they had no part in largely so NYPD detectives could pat themselves on the back for a job well done, and get to be heroes in the public eye. “The Central Park Five” tells the story of how people aren’t always good, and in some cases, how even our country’s prized social mediators — cops, judges and the like — can cause irreversible harm on peoples’ lives and wellbeing.

The documentary uses a wide array of contributors, including four out of the five “offenders” almost 20 years after the fact and the protected voice and testimonials of the other. The film is a must-see for documentary hounds and news junkies alike.

The documentary is also highly recommended for anyone interested in pursuing either journalism, law or criminal justice as the lessons from the film are invaluable in relating to these disciplines.

          For the rest of us, the documentary serves as an important narrative of how people do things that are gravely wrong, of the horrific injustice can come as a result of these offenses against the community, and more significantly on the lives of individuals.


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