A co-laborer at New Life recently encouraged me to watch The Central Park Five. It is the story of five teenagers – four blacks and one Hispanic, ages 14 to 16, who were arrested and charged with raping and beating, nearly to death, a 28 year old, white woman after dark in Central Park.
The boys were portrayed as “beasts,” and “wild animals” with no remorse for their actions. Donald Trump placed full-page ads calling for the return of the death penalty.
They spent the next 7-13 years of their lives in prison. Their lives and families were ruined.
The problem: They were innocent. The murderer who committed the crime finally admitted it in 2002.
This documentary is important to watch for many reasons. Here are my top three:
1. Social class and racial divisions remain a deep reality. The Central Park Five gives us an amazing portrayal of the injustice that befalls so many minorities and inner city youth. The jogger worked on Wall Street. The five boys were from Harlem. Would the fates of five frightened, confused, exhausted, and manipulated adolescents been different if their skin had been white? Absolutely. Would the working class parents been able to navigate the criminal justice system better and hire more competent defense lawyers if they had money and power? Absolutely.
2. We are called to stand with the poor and marginalized who cannot speak for themselves. We are called to bring shalom into that division. To live a comfortable, insulated life, enjoying God and His many gifts to us, and not engage the injustices around us is easy to do.
3. We are to resist the temptation to scapegoat and judge others from afar. New York was at a peak of crime and racial tension when this happened on April 19, 1989. Part of the problem was the media coverage: Instead of raising questions, the mainstream press added to the hysteria. At the time, I too believed the newspapers that they were guilty.
Watch this documentary by Ken Burns, David McMahon and Sarah Burns. You will be glad you did.