One Police Plaza

The Central Park Five and the PC Police

December 3, 2018

In yet another instance of political correctness run amok, the Mystery Writers of America has rescinded its Grand Master award to best-selling detective novelist Linda Fairstein. Its reason: her role three decades ago as the sex crimes supervisor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, which amid New York’s 1980s racial furies wrongly convicted five black and Hispanic teenagers of the rape of a 28-year-old white woman, who became known as the Central Park jogger.

Worse, Fairstein has refused to concede that the Central Park Five, as they have come to be known, were innocent victims, coerced by the NYPD into confessing their crimes, as the national media now portray them. The pages of history have been rewritten to create a narrative as misleading as was the rush to convict them.

As writer Attica Locke posted on Twitter, Fairstein “is almost single-handedly responsible for the wrongful incarceration of the Central Park Five. For which she never apologized or recanted her insistence on their guilt for the most heinous of crimes.”

The Five, ages 14 to 16, were believed to have been part of a pack of 40 youths, roaming the park on the night of April 19, 1989, and assaulting a homeless man, a male teacher and a couple on a tandem bike. They were picked up near where the white woman, Tricia Meili, was found unconscious and barely alive.

No physical evidence linked them to the rape or to the attack on her. While each of the five denied raping her, their videotaped statements to police implicated each other not just in Meili’s rape and beating but also of the pack that had carried out the other attacks. Anton McCray said he had held Meili down and faked raping her. Raymond Santana said he had touched her breasts. Kevin Richardson said he had watched. Kharey Wise said he had fondled her legs while others held her down.

Years later, this reporter watched those confessions. The accounts were chillingly believable and frighteningly convincing. A jury also believed them. The teens were sentenced to between 5 and 15 years in prison.

Then in 2002, 13 years after the attack, Mathias Reyes, a serial rapist and murderer serving a life sentence, confessed he alone had raped and assaulted the jogger. His DNA matched DNA at the scene.

By then the five had completed their sentences, which were vacated. Since then, they and their supporters have maintained the NYPD coerced their confessions.

Meanwhile, the NYPD conducted an investigation led by Michael Armstrong, who was counsel to the Knapp Commission on police corruption in the early 1970s. He seemed to agree with Fairstein, concluding that it was “more likely than not” that the five had subjected the jogger to some sort of “hit and run” attack consistent with their other activities that night, as he put it. The NYPD was also adamant that detectives had not coerced the teenagers’ confessions.

Enter cinematographer Ken Burns, who presented the five as Little Lord Fauntleroys, gliding over his own narrator’s point that even if they did not rape the jogger, they were hardly innocents.

Burns also ignored Armstrong, who said he spent an afternoon at Burns’s studio in a taped question-and-answer session. Armstrong said Burns later “called me to say they were not going into the matters about which I had been questioned so they wouldn’t be using the footage of my interview. He said they were going in a different direction.”

In 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio offered an astounding $45 million settlement with the five teenagers. In its story last week on rescinding Fairstein’s award, The Washington Post wrote that the teens’ confessions had been “coerced.” There was no attribution. The coercion has now been accepted as fact.


Copyright © 2018 Leonard Levitt