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Wrongly Convicted ‘Central Park 5' Seek Compensation

Final Call, News Report, Saeed Shabazz Posted: Jun 04, 2009

NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) - It has been 20 years since the brutal rape of a White female jogger in New York City's Central Park. But supporters of five young Black and Latino men wrongly convicted and jailed for the crime, say it is time to close a chapter that still stains the racial fabric of the city.

Community activist Alton H. Maddox Jr. called an April 20 press conference to demand that the city stop procrastinating and pay Raymond Santana, Khary Wise, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson and Yusuf Salaam compensation for false arrest and imprisonment.

The men are asking for $50 million each for serving six to 14 years. Mr. Wise served the 14-year term.

On April 22, Brooklyn City Councilman Charles Barron introduced a resolution calling for the city to compensate the men immediately and forego a lengthy civil proceeding.

Mr. Barron told reporters the families of the men have suffered extreme trauma, stress and economic hardship. He stressed to the media how the Central Park 5 were subjected to a 28-hour interrogation, deprived of sleep, denied food and kept from family members.

The NYPD “used terrorist tactics” to gain false admissions of guilt, which later were proved to be untrue, Mr. Barron said.

Atty. Roger Wareham, who is presently arguing with the city over the pending litigation, said a civil lawsuit will show the “diabolical” behavior of NYPD detectives.

“We have been nearly six years in court with the city, and they continue to drag their feet,” said Mr. Wareham, who is part of the legal team representing Mr. Richardson, Mr. Santana and Mr. McCray. “The city is just stretching the process out, so, now we need a big push from the community,” Mr. Wareham told The Final Call.

Sharron Salaam, Yusef Salaam's mother, participated in the demonstration led by Mr. Maddox. She told The Final Call the fateful night of April 19, 1989 was a “life-altering experience,” a “shocking experience.”

Ms. Salaam said she was never notified by police that her 15-year-old son was in custody and under interrogation. “A neighbor told me,” she said.

Ms. Salaam remembers the mass media hysteria that referred to her son as a member of a “wolf pack.” It was also in the early days of reporting on the case that the New York media coined the phrase “wilding” to describe negative, violent behavior was assigned to Black and Latino youth.

In 2002, the five were exonerated after Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and rapist, admitted that he and he alone, had raped and brutalized Wall St. investment banker Trisha Meili. DNA evidence proved his claim.

“I kept telling those people they had the wrong ones, back then they had a hanging mentality in this city,” Ms. Salaam recalled. Though her son was paroled in 1997, he is registered on a sexual predators list and was under constant scrutiny until the Reyes admission.

“There is no amount of money that can make up for ripping apart Yusuf's life,” Ms. Salaam said. “But, my son, who is now 35, needs to be made whole again, and part of that process is for him to be able to take care of his four daughters properly.”

Jonathan Lippman, the newly- appointed chief judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, the state's top jurist, told reporters in April he would create a permanent task force to examine wrongful convictions and recommend ways to minimize them.

Judge Lippman said the task force would include defense lawyers, prosecutors, scientists and lawmakers. Advocates for the task force said broad membership suggested by the chief judge would give it needed legitimacy.

The New York State Bar Association released a report in March that found 53 falsely accused people had been exonerated in the state since 1964, with half let go because of DNA evidence.

“If the city refuses to settle, we are going to see a return to the divisive racial climate of 1989,” warned Mr. Wareham.

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