In 1989, journalists called it "wilding": random gang-lead assaults on innocent passers-by. Five black and Latino teenagers went to jail for the brutal rape of a white female jogger. More than a decade later, those convictions were overturned on hard evidence. The travesty of media justice, laden by obvious overtones of classic prejudices, remained largely unexamined. That is, until now. This is an amazing joint work from iconic doc director Ken Burns, his daughter Sarah Burns and her husband David McMahon, based on her book.
Before OJ Simpson, this was “the trial of the century”.
On April 20, 1989 at 1:30 am, two passers-by found the body of a barely-alive female jogger on a path in Manhattan’s Central Park. The woman, Trisha Meili, had been brutally beaten, bound, raped and then abandoned. The crime horrified the city and the trauma left Trisha, only known then as “The Central Park Jogger”, without any memory of the incident. The safety of the city’s feature park was gone. People wanted blood for this heinous crime.
The police latched on to five boys from poor families. Four were African-American and one was mostly Latino. All were aged 14-16. After a now infamous all night interrogation session without lawyers, they gave contradictory confessions to crimes they did not commit. To the public and the press though, just the existence of their confessions meant their guilt was without question and their fate was sealed.
It was only the eventual confession by the true rapist that finally put the racially charged, panic-stricken massive miscarriage of justice into its full light, clearing the boys’ names. Sadly, most had already served their sentences, the world moved on through yet another “trial of the century” and nobody wanted to revisit those old unasked questions and grievous mistakes.
But this wasn’t just a lone incident. It was a part of a greater history and a legacy that still lives on in a divided America.