Revisiting the Central Park Five | Local film | Savannah News, Events, Restaurants, Music


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It’s been thirty years since the Central Park jogger case rocked the nation.

Five teenagers, four black and one Latino, have been wrongfully convicted of assaulting and raping a white woman in Central Park. They spent time in jail and only saw their charges dropped after another man was correctly identified as the rapist in 2002.

The case regained attention thanks to Ava DuVernay’s Netflix series “When They See Us,” but legendary documentary filmmaker Ken Burns also made a film about the five young men.

“The Central Park Five” was released in 2012, and the Beach Institute will show it this Thursday as part of its film and talk series.

Ron Christopher, the chairman of the board of the King-Tisdell Cottage Foundation, shared a little more about the screening last week.

Tell me about this documentary.

It’s under the auspices of PBS, and we told them we wanted to use the film under the fair use doctrine. They were really excited because of what we saw with the documentary “When They See Us”. Ken Burns is a famous documentary maker and he decided to take care of this one. At the time, it was far enough away from the event that people could actually watch and reflect on what happened when it happened in 1989.

Not getting old myself, but I wasn’t alive in 1989, so hearing about Central Park five years later was shocking.

It may not even seem real, is it? The point is, the event as it came to be seen was not the first time we experienced this as a country. Phenomena like this date back, at least as far as people remember, to the Scottsboro boys in 1931, and in the 1960s there was a similar incident called Harlem Six, which was eerily similar in detail. . [They’re] all the cases in which young African-American men have been wrongly convicted and ultimately exonerated.

That’s why I think these documentaries are important, because for those of us who weren’t there when it happened or were there but too young to really understand it, documentaries really give us the opportunity. to expose ourselves to a factual event when we had hindsight, when the people who lived at the time did not.

I look forward to the discussion after this documentary because I know a lot of people would have seen Ava DuVernay’s version, so I expect there will be a fair amount of comparison and contrast and the people are talking about what was included here versus what was included.

At the time of going to press, you haven’t seen the Ken Burns documentary yet, but how do you think these two adaptations are going to interact with each other?

As far as I know, they touch on a lot of the same themes in terms of what it says about our system and what it generally says about people when they are in a heightened state of awareness and attitude. They both highlight what can happen when you’re almost in a crowd-type environment. When you are in this environment anything can happen. The principles of justice are flouted. The penalties are increasing.

With Central Park Five, an interesting fact is that they were all teenagers. One of them was tried as an adult — he was 16, which again is another issue we have today, which is the prosecution of minors as adults. It says a lot about the company. It’s an uplifting tale, and it tells us where we came from so we can compare where we are and how much work we need to do.

It appears that we have a lot of work to do with the criminal justice system.

One of the things that we hope to get out of the screening of this film and films like it is that in addition to what we folks take away from the discussion, we hope they get also commit to educate themselves. It just has to do with the whole issue of criminal justice reform that has made the headlines. We had Project Innocence and all of those things were focused on improving the administration of criminal justice in the country. My point is that we don’t necessarily need a reform as much as we need a complete overhaul.

The other thing, too, is that as the general public, most of us don’t have close regular contact with the criminal justice system, and that’s a good thing, of course, for the people involved. But for society as a whole, it’s not the best thing because it’s a closed door. We have no interest in opening the door, no idea what is going on behind it, until we are personally affected and begin to realize it. For the most part, people are appalled. But movies like this open the door and allow people to step in and then see if they want to take it any further.

The United States has the most incarcerated of any nation on Earth. We are on par with China in terms of proportion. It’s just not pretty. It’s about awareness — people need to know.

One of the interesting statistics from Project Innocence is that they state that 88% of DNA-exempt minors who were tried in adulthood were black. 88%! We should all be concerned about it.

This is an unacceptable statistic.

Here is the thing. The system is obviously not perfect, and maybe no system is. You are probably always going to have innocent people. Looking at the whole system and saying, “We’re starting from scratch,” how would you do it? The whole idea of ​​locking people up and putting them in cages for a considerable period of time and the idea that some of these people, in their fifties, have been in jail for 10 years and are still 20 years old, them chances of them being a danger to someone is just ridiculously low. We have to take a step back and say, “Okay, what’s the logic of locking people up? What are we really trying to protect? Is it even financially reasonable?

Here is another interesting thing. African Americans, in a sense, are often like the canary in the mine shaft. You look at a situation and you see that it is not working and that it is particularly harsh or damaging to African Americans. Often this becomes the impetus for reforms and changes that actually benefit the whole of society.

You can go through everything in terms of civil rights, in terms of public education – all of these initiatives were seen as, “Okay, these people are suffering particularly because of our current configuration, we have to change it.” And thanks to that, things are improving. I suspect that will be one of the situations.

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Gladys T. Hensley

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