Bronx Preparatory High School recently honored the Central Park Five by presenting them with honorary high school diplomas alongside the rest of the 2017 Bronx Prep graduates. Draped in blue ceremonial garb, the Central Park five received just a grain of the reparations they are due for being unjustly convicted of a crime they did not commit.
Though you may be too young to remember, in 1989 five men (four black and one Hispanic) were convicted of raping and assaulting a then young female investment banker. The men were sentenced to anywhere between 5 and 15 years to jail. At the time, the youngest of the men was 14, and the oldest was 16.
They did not take plea bargains, as they told their lawyers and the court that they were coerced into admitting to a crime they did not commit by racist police officers. The men, at the time young boys, spent between 6 and 13 years in prison.
In 2002, Matias Reyes, a by then serial rapist and murderer who was serving a life sentence in jail, confessed to be the real perpetrator of the crime.
DNA evidence proved the truth of Matias Reyes’ confession.
It has been 28 years since the men were first accused and arrested.
These men have forever lost a significant portion of their lives to the institutionalized racism that permeates our corrupt justice system.
The valedictorian of the 2017 graduating class made a promise to the three men standing on stage with him (and to the two of the five who could not make the ceremony) on behalf of his class that, “We will educate ourselves so that we stand for something larger rather than to fall for sensationalism, lies and injustice.”
The occurrence of this graduation ceremony was a beautiful sight to witness. One of the Five, Raymond Santana was quoted in The New York Times as saying, “When we went to prison, this was taken away from us. It was something we never got to experience … and we’ve finally found redemption,” as he received his degree onstage.
I truly do hope he has found some redemption and peace.
But it is imperative that we dedicate ourselves to the same promise made by those of the 2017 Bronx Prep graduating class.
We need not only to stay woke, but we also need to take action to try and change the system in which we exist because as Audre Lorde once wrote, The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.