AFRICANGLOBE – New York police took less than two weeks in 1989 to arrest five young African-American men in the shockingly violent assault and rape of 28-year-old investment banker Trisha Meili, in what became known as the Central Park Jogger Case or Central Park Five case.
All five were eventually convicted.
It took another 13 years before those convictions were overturned. A prison inmate named Matias Reyes, in jail for unrelated crimes, confessed to the Meili attack. Subsequent DNA testing proved his guilt. The jail terms of the five were vacated after Reyes’ confession.
Now, 10 years after that dramatic move, comes “The Central Park Five.” It’s a gripping documentary by Emmy-winning filmmaker Ken Burns, along with his daughter Sarah Burns — who also wrote a book on the Meili case — and David McMahon.
The film made headlines during its festival-circuit run, when New York City subpoenaed research unearthed by the Burns group about the case. The filmmaker has so far resisted turning over material gathered while making the film.
It’s no coincidence, Burns argues, that the city’s efforts will further prolong the suit against it by three of the so-called Central Park Five, who charge malicious prosecution, racial discrimination and racial distress. He says those suits have been stalled in New York courts since 2003.
“It’s the fourth quarter and they’re trying to run out the clock,” Burns says. “These young men are now all in their late 30s, and it’s been more than 20 years.
“What’s so incredible is that these [men] have got the courage to say, ‘We’re not giving up. This is what justice looks like.’ ”
“The Central Park Five” began a limited theatrical release on Nov. 23, and will air next year on HBO. The film examines the night of April 19, 1989, the so-called “wolf pack” attack on Meili in Central Park, and the subsequent media and city-wide frenzy. All five men later said they were coerced into making confessions that implicated the others as well as themselves.
The film is a departure for Burns, whose work — on everything from baseball to the Civil War to jazz, from New York to the U.S. national park system — is often sweepingly historical. He’s now in postproduction on a 14-hour documentary about Theodore, Eleanor and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
“This film is the most journalistic thing I’ve done,” Burns says. “There’s a different energy to it. But it’s not that far out of the norm. Almost all of our projects have forced us to grapple with questions of race. You don’t go looking for it, but it turns out to be the No. 1 subtext in the American experience.”
Burns hopes “The Central Park Five” raises public awareness of what he sees as an ongoing injustice. “In the larger moral sense,” Burns says, “this is 13 years of tragedy, compounded by a decade of limbo.”
By; Marshal Fine