(NEW YORK) — A Central Park entrance was renamed the “Gate of the Exonerated” on Monday in honor of the “Exonerated Five”: the five men wrongfully convicted in the 1989 rape of a Central Park jogger.
One of the “Exonerated Five,” Raymond Santana, said in a statement, “I never reentered Central Park because of what happened to me and my fellow members of the Exonerated Five. Even when my daughter was born, there were moments I wanted to take her because of the beautiful playgrounds for the children, but I couldn’t bring myself to enter.”
“Now that my daughter is an adult, it’s time for us to go to Central Park, see the Gate of the Exonerated, and once again be a part of the park community,” he said.
“The ‘Exonerated Five’ is the American Black boy, man, story,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams said at the gate unveiling as some of the exonerated men looked on.
This naming “is sending a strong message,” said Adams, a former NYPD officer. “We should be having school trips [to the gate] to talk about this story.”
The case known as the “Central Park Five” began on April 19, 1989, when jogger Trisha Meili was raped, brutally beaten and left for dead in the park. She survived and testified, but did not remember her assault.
Five Black and Latino teens — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise — were taken into custody, hounded in police interrogations and ultimately gave false confessions.
Salaam, Santana and McCray were convicted of rape, assault and robbery. Wise was found guilty of sexual abuse, assault and riot, and Richardson was convicted of attempted murder, rape, sodomy, robbery, assault and riot.
In 2002, convicted rapist Matias Reyes confessed to being Meili’s sole attacker, and Reyes’ DNA was matched to the crime scene. The convictions of the “Central Park Five” were overturned and the men then known as the “Exonerated Five” went on to receive a settlement from the city.
Monday’s unveiling marks exactly 20 years after their convictions were vacated.
“The commemoration of this entrance is bittersweet,” Salaam said in a statement. “This Gate of the Exonerated serves as a reminder of the love and support we have received. For that, I am truly thankful and honored — and recommitted to righting the wrongs of our criminal system of injustice to ensure our youth never face what we did.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton noted at the renaming that more people were at the park Monday to celebrate this new gate than were at the courthouse to support the five teens when they went on trial.
“Let us not act like this is something that is not also continuing to happen today,” Sharpton said. “Because the ‘Exonerated Five’ is symbolic that many that still need to be exonerated.”
Sharpton added, “As long as there’s a Central Park, the story will be told about these five young men.”
Sue Donoghue, commissioner of New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation, said at the unveiling, “It is our hope that everyone who walks through these gates into one of the most majestic and scenic parts of Central Park will take a moment to reflect and remember those who have fought in the face of injustice.”
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