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'Gate Of The Exonerated' Honoring Wrongfully-Convicted Central Park Five Unveiled In NYC
It's been more than 30 years after Korey Wise, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson and Yusef Salaam were wrongfully convicted for the assault and rape of a Central Park jogger.
New York City unveiled the "Gate of the Exonerated" in a small part of Central Park flanking Harlem on Monday, honoring the group of Black and Latino teenagers once known as the Central Park Five. The teens were wrongfully convicted for the 1989 rape and assault of a 28-year-old white female jogger.
Korey Wise, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson and Yusef Salaam each served between six and 13 years in prison for the attack before their convictions were vacated by then-District Attorney Robert Morgenthau in 2002. DNA evidence implicated serial rapist and murderer Matias Reyes, who confessed while in prison for another crime and said he acted alone.
The city settled a lawsuit for $41 million with the five men in 2014, who said they were coerced to confess amid a public uproar.
The victim, Trisha Meili, was in a coma for 12 days after the April 19, 1989 attack and regained consciousness with no memory of the incident.
By the time the men were tried in 1990, The New York Times characterized the case as "one of the most widely-publicized crimes of the 1980's."
After the exonerations, the case became a prominent example of racial profiling, inequality and discrimination in the legal system and the media.
Monday was the first time that Santana, who was 14 at the time of his arrest, had been to the park in 33 years, according to the Associated Press.
"We were babies who had no deadline with the law. Never knew what Miranda was," Santana said at the gate's unveiling.
Richardson, who was also 14 years old upon his arrest and is now in his 40's, told onlookers that it "needs to be known what we went through."
"We went to hell and back. We have these scars that nobody sees," he said. "This is an important time right here — the Gate of the Exonerated, this is for everybody. Everybody who has been wronged by cops."
Salaam, who was 15 when he was wrongfully accused, said to a cheering crowd: “We are here because we persevered ... because what was written for us was hidden from the enemies that looked at the color of our skin and not the content of our character.”
“They didn’t know who they had,” he added. “The system is alive and sick, and we are to ensure that the future is alive and well.”
“The truth of the matter is that there are many, many cases like ours," Salaam later told Gothamist. "People need to understand because of that, they can say to themselves, how can we begin to dismantle and correct the mistakes of the past so that we can move into the future as a healed nation?”
Wise, who 16 when he was accused, and McCray, who was 15, were unable to attend the event.
The 20 entrances to Central Park were originally named in 1860 for groups of people that the park was said to belong to — including the "Merchant's Gate," the "Women's Gate," and the “Strangers’ Gate,” named for immigrants. Monday's ceremony, however, marked the first time the city has named an entrance since the park's original design.
Salaam's mother, Sharonne, began advocating for a public monument to honor her son and the other exonerees three years ago. She said on Monday that the new sign will serve as a reminder to Black and Latino kids that they are welcome in the park after they were given the impression that they might be wrongfully accused of crimes if they entered — with the "Central Park Five" case serving as a prime example.
“This hopefully will be at some moment a healing for all of us because our families went through a big amount of hell," she told Gothamist. "The community went through hell. It wasn’t an easy process."
Mayor Eric Adams, who was just beginning his career as an NYPD officer when the 1989 attack took place, paid tribute to the men at the ceremony.
"To these soldiers here, you personify the Black male experience," he said.
Current District Attorney Alvin Bragg apologized for the group's years-long ordeal in his statement. "The truth is, we shouldn't be here today," he said.