October 21, 2002

Redefining "Obsession"

I have to admit that the fight to clear the Central Park 5 — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Kharey Wise — has become a passionate, time-consuming endeavor for me and many, many others. Thirteen years ago when the boys were arrested for assaults, robberies and the rape of Patricia Meili, I gullibly agreed like others that it was an open and shut case. There was tremendous evidence against them: signed, written statements; videotaped confessions; the constant reminder that their parents were present for much of the interrogations and during the videotaped statements; but most importantly, it appeared to be logical that they did indeed commit the crimes with which they were charged.

Then a funny thing happened along the way. Cracks in the case grew larger and larger. Those of us with good memories of our Black History lessons saw that the fix was on. That we were witness to the beginnings of a new “Scottsboro Boys” case. This time, in the heart of the liberal, bleeding heart Northeast. In fact, once the community started speaking up for the boys, the case was given the nickname of “Scottsboro North.” And it wasn’t just an emotional response, nor one based solely on the race of the kids. We had a second look at the evidence: We learned that several of the boys were taken to the crime scenes hours before their parents arrival; the statements were basically dictated to them and they were coerced from them with verbal and physical threats and possibly actual assaults; and we realized that the presence of their parents meant nothing — they were not savvy enough to know that by falling for promises of leniency for any statement, that they were convicting their sons before even a hint of a trial. We also took note of Yusef Salaam’s refusal to confess to anything. He was steadfast in his denials and his supposed “written confession” was an obvious fabrication by veteran detectives.

Kharey Wise’s “confessions” were painful and heartbreaking. Both because we initially believed his statements (or at least the excerpts played over and over again on the nightly news and printed in the rags fighting to sell ad space daily) and then realized that he was “not all there,” at best, or slightly mentally challenged at worse. Since he was 16 at the time of his questioning, he didn’t need the presence of an adult. The police and prosecutors chose the perfect victim to coerce. That’s probably why they interrogated him last and made him wait for such a long time, about a day and a half. It would be years later before I learned that in his second videotaped statement he claimed that he was verbally and physically assaulted by a detective.

For anyone to believe those statements they would have to suspend logic. None of them matched at all. Not even in small, important details. And Wise’s statements were the most contradictory. He changed crime scenes, active participants and injuries inflicted on Meili. He was easily lead by Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Lederer — again, this was only brought to light in the wake of Matias Reyes’s confession to the rape of Meili — and detectives from the homicide squad. It’s one thing for the boys to get small, insignificant details wrong or to omit them entirely. But for them to diverge so much?! For the statements to defy common sense, it had to be coerced and obvious lies of desparate, scared and probably harmed boys.

The months leading up to the two major trials were filled with large excerpts from the Central Park 5’s statements. The City Sun, a Brooklyn based African American weekly that no longer exists, published shocking details made by the boys. Many of them said they masturbated over the victim while others raped her. They also claimed to have ejaculated on her while the vile deed was committed. Yet not one of them was ever connected to her by the DNA tests. Just her boyfriend and Matias Reyes (identified only after his confession earlier this year). There was no blood found on them, their clothing or in their homes. A few strands of hair was all the physical evidence that supposedly connected them to the notorious crime.

All these years later and shenigans continue to be perpetrated by officials that are sworn to uphold justice. As Big Mama says, “You don’t frame a guilty person.” In their quest to uphold the convictions at all costs, the Manhattan DA’s office, New York Police Department and their partners in crime, the mainstream press (for the most part), shows how desparate they are to hide their lies and just how weak the case is against the boys.

While I can’t do much in the way of righting the wrongs committed against them, I feel it’s my duty to inform and agitate on their behalf because “every little bit” does indeed count. By adding my voice to the growing chorus, we can shout till justice is done.

Go and tell Pharoah!

Posted by ronn at October 21, 2002 01:39 PM