On the evening of March 19, 1989,
a white woman who would come to be known as the Central Park Jogger was raped and beaten nearly to death by a serial rapist and murderer while jogging in Central Park.

That same night, Kevin Richardson and Raymond Santana-both only 14 years old-were arrested for disturbing the peace in Central Park. The next day, Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam,and Antron McCray were brought in for questioning. The next evening, all five were interrogated about a rape they had no knowledge of-a fact they tried, and failed, to communicate to the NYPD.

For more than seven hours, the NYPD subjected all five children to a marathon of brutal confession coercion--tantamount to torture–driving them to confess to a crime they did not commit.

There was no proof or substantive evidence tying any of the five to the attack of the Central Park Jogger Trisha Meili other than being black and brown and in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Sharonne Salaam, Yusef Salaam’s mother, writes:

letter written by Ms. Salaam
Letter written by Ms. Salaam, Mother of Yusef Salaam

But the world ignored their accounts. Meanwhile,
public figures like Donald Trump took out full-page ads calling for the return New York State’s death penalty only two weeks after their arrests,
a move that helped shape public opinion about the case and vilified the five children wrongly charged with
the crime.

In a riveting, detailed account, [Download here] Sharonne Salaam relays the horrors the families of the five boys suffered in the ensuing circus surrounding the trial and conviction:

"[We all] fell
into a helpless
place knowing that our children and our families were
going through
this horror.”

In 1991, each of the five boys were convicted of the crime and sentenced to 5-10 years and the oldest one  5-15 years in prison. This horrendous turn of events swept not only the innocent children but their parents, families, and the world into a saga that laid bare the overwhelming racism and flaws of a criminal justice system that has historically imprisoned black and brown bodies at markedly five times the rates of whites (Sentence Project, 2021).

In January of 2002, while serving a 32-year prison sentence for rape and murder, the true perpetrator owned up to the crime. His confession came after a chance meeting with Korey Wise in the prison system. He said to Korey “You still here? Im sorry”. Korey replied thinking of the fight they had in 1991-1992 when he first entered prison seeing him for the first time. Korey replied “Its alright man” and walked away. After he decided that confessing was “the right thing to do.” The man was not tried for the rape of the Central Park Jogger due to the statute of limitations.

On December 19, 2002, the New York Supreme Court Justice Charles J. Tejada vacated the convictions of Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana Jr., and Korey Wise for the rape of the Central Park Jogger. By then, each of the boys had already served lengthy prison sentences. By then, 4 of the youngest boys had finished their full 10 year sentence, and the oldest boy was on year 13 of his 15 prison sentence.

The five men, formerly known as the Central Park Five, came to be known as the Exonerated Five. But a name change fails to mitigate the reality–the lives of five young men of color were ripped away by ineptitude and systemic racism.Through their strength and with their families’ help, the men have since worked hard to rebuild their lives. They are busy making up for the time the U.S. legal system stole from them by living full, meaningful lives on their own terms, while also working to create change in the justice system that failed them.

Wrongful incarcerations and coerced confessions continue to this day. Since 1989, over 2,400 people have been exonerated of their crimes. It is claimed that between 2% and 10% of convicted individuals in US prisons are innocent. Bearing in mind that there are over 2.3 million incarcerated people in the U.S.
we can assume that the number of innocent people behind bars today is anywhere from 46,000 to 230,000.

Exonerated 5 photo