Week 2: What Went Wrong?

Apr 15, 2020

Welcome back, everyone! I hope everyone is enjoying their time at home to some extent. 

To start my research into the Exonerated Five, I focused on what went wrong during the actual case that led to wrongful convictions.  To do this, I watched a documentary by Ken Burns that focuses on the Central Park Five. I also watched a drama miniseries by Ava Duvernay titled When They See Us. She titled it this because the original documentary by Mr. Burns was called Central Park Five, the name the media was giving them.  She stated that she felt this name dehumanized them.  The title she gave it made everyone see them as something different and as themselves, not just the Central Park Five.

The first thing that I looked at was the fact that the boys were questioned and asked to give statements without a parent/guardian or attorney present.  All of these boys were under 18 at the time. A minor was allowed to be questioned without parental consent, which, in my opinion, was the first downfall in this case.  Most youths don’t know their rights, especially African Americans. This is because not enough is done to make rights known until they get into trouble and even then there’s not enough said to help.  Thus, they didn’t know they could have asked for an attorney. They thought that they’d go into the station and be asked a few questions, but in the end, they were coerced into giving a false statement. All of this was taken on video, written down and then they had the youths sign it.  They were practically coached into saying what they said. The boys did not know that they could ask for a lawyer. They were interrogated for over 15 hours. Some of the parents were notified by the police others were notified by other parents who had their children in custody.  Their parents were told that if the boys cooperated and gave statements, they would be able to go home. It turns out that these (flawed and inaccurate statements were the basis for their convictions. 

Another thing that went wrong during the case was the DNA evidence.  The detectives had DNA from the victim’s cervix and a running sock. The five boys’ DNA didn’t match either of the samples.  This should’ve been a hint that they had the wrong suspects but since they had those video recordings and signed testimonies, it wasn’t enough for them not to be convicted.

Since the young men were exonerated, it was clear to me that the lawyers were just looking for someone to point fingers at.  It also had to do with the racial makeup of the case. The victim was white and the suspects were all black. There were other sexual assaults during this time but the victims were black.  These other assaults also happened in minority neighborhoods in Brooklyn however the media coverage was not as large. Once this case happened and not in a low-income neighborhood with a white victim, it changed the game.  There was cultural pressure from the upper-class white community to find someone to put behind bars for this gruesome incident.  

Looking through the casework made me think a lot about what could be going wrong in other cases and what can be done to improve false arrests.

Thanks for reading,  

Kayla

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