Lessons From The Central Park Jogger Case
Posted: Tuesday, June 25, 2002
In the Context of Current History
by Elombe Brath
For over a week the media has mesmerized their crime fascinated American clientele with the sordid saga of the recently deceased Mafia Don John Gotti with highly romanticized stories on his life and the glamorous lifestyle of someone they claimed to be one of the most callous and vicious gangsters in the history of New York City. Meanwhile, little attention was being paid to a small news story regarding the 13 year old Central Park Jogger Case that should have been regarded as one of the biggest revelatory news bombshells in regards to the U.S. criminal justice system and American journalism at large.
After a month of investigation, it was reported on Tuesday, June 11,on Fox TV and in the New York Times that a convicted rapist and murderer, Matias Reyes, serving 33 1/2 years years to life for the rape and murder of one woman and the rape of several others, has confessed that he was also the person who raped the jogger in the infamous Central Park case that nearly tore this city apart 13 years ago.
This startling revelation, which seemingly - and hopefully - should lead to the expeditious resolution of pending appeals processes, demands for “pardons”, and expunging from the criminal justice records the convictions of six young African-American and Latino men who were falsely accused, charged, convicted and sent to prison for allegedy committing a heinous crime: the April 19,1989 beating and rape in Central Park of a white female jogger - then a 28-year old wall street investment banker, working for Salomon Brothers, no less.
Moreover, while five of the defendants have been released after ostensibly serving “their” time, one young man, Kharey Wise, was never able to make bail and has remained incarcerated in the New York prison system for the last 13 years. Since Wise’s incarceration has continued much longer after the release of his other codefendants, it stands to reason that he should be released immediately into the custody of his mother, family and community.
Given the importance of the highly sensationalized Central Park jogger case which had New York polarized along the racial fault-lines that have riven the nation since time immemorial, you would think that this story would have been the lead story on television newscasts and radio broadcasts and frontpage headlines in the major newspapers and the tabloids when the first story broke. With the exception of WBAI’S “Wake Up Call”, this was not the case. Fox TV did a piece on the story that was practically smothered by other regular features of lesser significance but were allowed to share equal time and space.
While I did not see anything on News 1 myself, I was told that one did air on the channel but was appeared and was gone so fleetingly that it amounted to practically nothing. News 1 is supposedly New York City’s major cable television channel to cover events primarily of interest to New Yorkers. It is also the station where Dominic Carter has been ensconced for some time. An historical note of both paradox and parody is the fact that I personally intervened to stop Dominic from getting knocked out when a melee broke out after guilty verdicts in the Central Park jogger case were announced against two of the defendents. Maybe Dominic forgot about the case or just blocked it out of his memory.
The New York Times, said to be the U.S. “paper of record”, which boasts that it prints all the news fit to print (or as Professor Rayfus Williams correctly pointed out, “All the news printed to fit), apparently felt that the story was not front-page material and only ran it in the B section, page two - not even page one, the section’s front page. And even then, the story tended to spread be confusion, leaving the impression that the relevance of Reyes confession was either that all of the defendants and Reyes were guilty or Reyes was just “off the wall.” I’ll get back to that in a moment.
Reviews of the coverage of the two major daily tabloids which reap their profits by feeding sensationalized anti-crime stories when race is a key agitating ingredient, represent a scandal. I don’t think they mentioned the Reyes confession at all. Instead, the New York Daily News published a front and back page, 16 page wrap-around special edition glorifying the life of Mafia Don John Gotti while its rival, the New York Post, published a 13-page romanticization of the lifestyle of the man accused of being one of the most brutal crime bosses in the history of New York City.
Did you notice how much fantasy, Sopranos-like press the “dapper don” mobster John Gotti received in his obituaries as opposed to that of the late former police commissioner Ben Ward? Gotti, the fifth born of 13 children born to a poor Italian family in the South Bronx, ascended to his notoriety and personal enrichment by engaging in murder and mayhem, racketeering and only God knows what, ending up in the federal penitentiary with a life sentence which he finally finished.
On the other hand, Ward- the 10th child of 11 children born to an African-American family in Brooklyn; his father a laborer and mother a domestic, a poor family where six of his siblings died of childhood illnesses, sought to better his meager conditions and upgrade his social status through, as he was taught, honest, hard work.
As it has been pointed out, Ward shined shoes, delivered groceries, developed his mental capacity in schools, graduated and joined the segregated U.S. Army military during World War II and was sent off to fight against nazism in Germany, fascism in Italy, and “make Europe safe for democracy”, etc. He subsequently joined the NYPD in 1951 and achieved the third highest score out of 78,000 applicates who took the examination. Yet, in the NYPD he was treated with as much racist hostility and contempt that many of white officers in the department usually mete out any Black or Latino citizen or denizen that they have sworn to serve and protect.
Nevertheless, Ward - and this is not as much a promotion of either him or his career but a candid observation and honest appraisal of his work ethics - went on to return to school and earn a law degree from Brooklyn Law School, become the first Black person to be director of New York’s Department of Corrections and commissioner of the largest force in the country, two of the highest positions in the criminal justice civil service in this city’s history.
Check the coverage of the obituaries between Gotti and Ward. Interesting contrast, aren’t they? Notice how the mainstream media treated the eulogies of a white man who led a life of organized crime and a Black man whose life was organized to fight against crime. It should be very instructive. And if you think that comparative analyses of the lives of Gotti and Ward and the hypocritical moral values that this society teaches have nothing to do with the coverage of the plight of the Black and Latino teenagers who were victimized in the Central Park case, you are definitely mistaken.
How the mainstream media treated the confession of Matias Reyes is equally shocking. Reyes’s admission is as important a news story as that of Arnold Beverly, the self-professed mob hitman who admitted how he - not Mumia Abu-Jamal - killed Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in Philadelphia during December 1981!
In my view, and that of many others that I have talked to , the news of Beverly’s confession should have allowed Mumia, who has been imprisoned on deathrow for over two decades, to at least be able to apply for bail if not outright demand immediate release.
However, Reyes’s admission of guilt was treated in the same cavalier manner as was Beverly’s. Very little publicity; ignore the story and hope that it will fade away. It makes you wonder if someone in similar circumstances of either Reyes or Beverly would now come forth and announce that he (or even she) was the one really responsible for the actual killing of Nicole Simpson, how such an addmission as shocking as that be treated? Most likely, in order to save their racist faces and/or asses, the criminal justice system might actually do away with the bearer of the new unwanted news rather than face the consequences of the truth.
The criminal justice system claims that everyone charged with a crime is to be assumed innocent until proven guilty beyond any reasonable doubt. Presumably, the system is willing to face the truth when confronted with it. But paraphrasing the immortal words of Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men”, They want the truth? They can’t handle the truth!
And it seems that they really can’t - or won’t - deal with the truth. Take the case of Matias Reyes. The 31-year old inmate pleaded guilty in October 1991 to raping and murdering a 24-year old pregnant white woman on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and raping several others, certainly didn’t need another case - especially one with the magnitude of the brutal rape that took place in Central Park on April 19,1989. Like Beverly, Reyes doesn’t need to add any more to his already overloaded plate or rap sheet. But after much soul searching, and perhaps having undergone an epiphany and a sense of remorse, along with an understandable jailhouse religious conversion, Reyes admitted that he had also been responsible for the rape of *Patricia Meili, the jogger attacked in Central Park in 1989.
Of particular interest is the fact that Reyes’s rape and murder of the Upper East Side woman took place two years after that of the Central Park case, during a time that many of us were claiming that the six teenage defendants were innocent and that the prosecution should be trying to find the real assailant before they strike again. But our demands went to no avail.
Now 31-years old, Reyes would have been 20 years old when he raped the woman for whom he was arrested for murdering and 18 at the time of the Central Park incident. The oldest defendant in the Central Park case was 16 and the youngest 14,hardly the running buddies of Reyes. In fact, although several of the defendants lived in the same housing development, Schomburg Plaza, the didn’t all hang out together or associate prior to the case. For the most part, they learned more about each other after being co-defendants in the case.
Now back to the Times story by William K. Rashbaum. I find Mr. Rashbaum’s story somewhat disengenuous. Most irritating - and infuriating - is his conclusion when he quoted defense attorney Jesse Berman, who got a plea bargain for his client Steve Lopez to receive a lesser sentence. Rashbaum suggested that Berman stated while “he had always been skeptical of the confessions”, there were two options to understand Reye’s confession. According to Rashbaum, Berman said, “One possibility is that they’re guilty and this guy is guilty too, ”, and “One possibility is [Reyes] is off the wall and he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, ” which is how the Times article ended.
However, many who know Berman were suspicious that he would have offered only those two options to explain away Reye’s important confession. And lo and behold, when Herb Boyd contacted Berman, the lawyer not only clarified the misunderstanding but we learned how assignment editors and reporters connive to manufacture a bogus consensus on critical issues that have been devastating to the African-American and Latino community, especially the youth. According to Boyd, writing in the AmNews last week, Berman said, “I told them that one possibility is that they’re [the five convicted] all guilty, as well as Reyes; that Reyes is off the wall; or that he was solely responsible.”
The fact that the Rashbaum and the Times edited out the one option that cited Reyes’s sole culpability in the crime is very important to understand the foul role that the major media plays in these cases which have are infested with racial dynamics. This omission cannot be dismissed as simply just the reporter and/or the Times simply just being mischievous or careless. It is a calculated attempt at deception, to plant into the minds of the general public that Reyes’s claim does not rule out the impression that the six teenagers had been involved with him, or that he is simply a nut. The contention is disengenuously beyond measure, and must be confronted and the authors must not be allowed to get away with impunity.
The same can be said of the interpretation of DNA tests. According to the Times Reyes’s DNA tests showed that his “genetic material” was “consistent with some of the evidence” found in the jogger case. But, we are then told that, “the tests do not show a conclusive match”, alluding this opinion to some unnamed person who is supposedly familiar with the investigation.
This slight-of-hand attempt to obfuscate the importance of the consistency of the genetic match with Reyes, which substantiates his confession, is similar to the time 13 years ago when the FBI brought back their results of DNA testing of the six defendants. The media had convinced almost everyone to expect a match that would guarantee a conviction of all of the defendants. But the results proved just the opposite, excluding matches of any of the defendants to the jogger. In fact, the only definitive match was with the jogger’s boy friend. Finding no match with the defendants who had been practically found guilty before the trial even began, an embarrassed prosecution reported that the results were “inconclusive.”
Thus, at a time when DNA tests were freeing inmates all across the country who had been imprisoned for years, the Central Park defendents found themsleves in a most unusual paradoxical predicament at the end of their trial: they were railroaded to prison although DNA had cleared them of culpability in the actual committing of the crime.
A few weeks ago two detectives went to the home of one of the defendants under the guise that they were just on a courtesy visit to see how the young man was getting along with his life after being released from incarceration. Shortly after, the detectives asked the young man to look at about a dozen photographs that they just happened to have with them. When they asked if he could identify any of the people in the photos he said yes, pointing out two of his codefendants. They then asked if he knew any of the others in the mugshots and he told them he couldn’t reconize anyone other than two he named (and he didn’t), the detectives left dissapointed.
But when you reflect upon what this scenario indicates, it clearly looks like it was an attempt to entrap the former defendant, just as he and his codefendants had been entrapped in 1989. How so? Well, if you think that the detectives simply visited the young man to check on his wellbeing, than you don’t have to read further. On the other hand, if you know how detectives usually work, the chances are that they had shuffled photos of Reyes among the mix with hopes that the defendant would pick one out of him, allowing for them to develop a case that there was some sort of a link between the imprisoned convicted serial rapist and murderer to those who had been earlier convicted, sentenced and served prison terms for the crime.
Reyes’s confession could then be accepted contextually, without directly indicating whether that the Central Park defendants were actually innocent or not, but imply that they were somehow accomplices. In this scenario, Reyes would then just be projected as another member of the so-called “wilding”, “urban terrorists”, “super predators”, “wolf pack” that the police and the media concocted - but one that they had somehow missed in the sweep during 13 years ago.
In effect, Reyes then could be presented as a missing rapist, similar to how Zacarias Maoussaoui, the alleged 20th terrorist that is believed was scheduled to participate in the tragic events of September 11,2001 if he hadn’t been in jail during the time that the tragedy occurred.
With the prospects of facing one of the biggest lawsuits in the history of wrongful imprisonment grievances, New York City in general and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office in particular are not very happy with the recent turn of events. Detectives have already made an additional attempt to harass the parent of another one of the young men convicted in the Central Park case but was brusquely shown the door.
Don’t be surprised at anything that the police and the press try to do to avoid having to answer to the devastation they have done to the families of those “convicted” 13 years ago and await justice for the injustice accorded them at that time and the restoration of their good names and having their records cleared.
Another slight-of-hand maneuver in the media concerning the case was the treatment of alleged confessions used against them. Without any doubt, if it had not been for the six young men being intimidated and inveigled by members of the NYPD and prosecutors from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office into making self-incriminating videotaped statements that were used as “confessions” against them, they never would have been convicted. These “confessions” concocted by the police were what prejudiced the public against not only the youth but the attorneys that defended them and activists who supported them. But I feel more confident today than at any time before that finally the Central Park Six will be totally vindicated.
They have spent unnecessary years of their youth behind bars in a case that more and more people are starting to agree that if it had been their child or children instead of those who were victimized, then they would also be demanding immediate release and restitution.
The other tragedy of the case is the collateral damage that wreaked havoc on the families. Some parents were so shamed about the case and frustrated about how they handled the situation that they fell victim to internal conflicts. Some even eventually separated, and at least two good fathers became so stressed out that their health was overlooked and deteriorated. Eventually fate took its course and their toll: both succuming to untimely deaths.
Although the defendants had not been in any serious problems with the criminal justice system prior to April 19,1989,which usually is helpful as a mitigating circumstance for the court to be lenient, the horror of the crime weighed against the six young men benefitting by any previous good behavior. They were branded as sex offenders and demanded to make statements of remorse for a crime they had not done. And based on that, while the young defendants themselves denounced the barbarity of the crime, they could not, nor would not - or felt that they should have to - make such statements which would allow people to interpret as indicating that they were guilty.
At the time the young men were being urged to show remorse as the only way to convince people that believed they were guilty that, instead, they were really innocent. It was demanded that they also should subject themselves to encounter groups to make sex offenders purge themselves of their assumed lustful impulses. And after that, upon release from prison, they were catalogued by Megan’s Law, that forces convicted sex offenders to be identified as such, allowing for potential employers or neighbors to further discriminate against having such an individual in either their employ or within their midst. And living near so-called “decent people” was entirely out of the question. While you are pondering how adequate you may think that it is for the guilty, compute how horrible it is for the innocent.
Thirteen years ago Cardinal O’Connor drew some criticism when during the time that the hysteria around the case was initially at its highest, he went to visit the defendents at Rikers Island. We seized the opportunity then to raise a question of a deeper inquiry than if the Cardinal should or shouldn’t have made the visit. Some thought he was just trying to seek further “confessions.” Instead, we wanted to know how the media could be so gung ho to punish six Black and Hispanic teenagers and label them as sex offenders when their cases at least reflected reasonable doubts in regards to their alleged guilt?
Meanwhile, both the system and the media neglected the coverup of the then-emerging cases of pedophile priests operating freely within the Catholic Church (as well as other religious denominations.) Why were priests who operated as serial rapists allowed to be transferred from diocese to diocese without an iota of repentance or arrest for statutory rape? How could they be allowed to leave such a trail of broken lives of innocent children and adolescents who were entrusted to a hypocritical religious hierarchy quoting scriptures and posturing as God’s representatives on earth?
These callous individuals, whom Carlos Cooks was once jailed for referring to as “ecclesiastical pimps” and “bible quoting hypocrites”, have the audacity to demand confessions from others but cannot admit that their own guilt regarding their troubled lives are ruining the lives of their young charges. But are subjected to arrest for violating the criminal code? Were they shamed in public at the time, unlike today? All one has to do to figure out how long this unchecked licentious behavior has been going on is to see the amount of people who were victimized in their childhood now coming forth to testify are grown men.
Have any of these holier-than-thou violaters ever been asked to submit to Megan’s Law so that when they are transfered to another parish at least the parishoners would have a chance to safeguard their children? No, they receive protection of confidentiality from their superiors in a blatant conspiracy of evil that denies everything they claim to believe in. And even now, after months of negotiations about how to stop the pampering of those who would reduce the church down to being viewed as an undecisive quarreling group of whether to continuing to sympathize with the delights of privileged class of pontifical pedophiliacs or defend the rights of the masses of naive and gullible people by taking the proper means to stamp out the pandemic sexual abuse of children, they cannot agree that zero tolerance of such psychologically damaging behavior has to be adhered to.
And like the prosecution, the biggest factor in them even considering these crimes against the youngest of humanity is the fear that the price they will have to pay is financial reparations: irate victims and their families have started to penalize the Church by withholding the payment of their tithes to such a hypocritical and callous institution.
In the final analysis, it’s bad enough if an individual priest is sick and needs help. It’s another thing - and even worse-when his sickness is allowed to go unchecked and subsequently spreads like a cancer among one of the largest religious congregations in the world. In the latter case, the priest, whether he is a deacon, bishop, cardinal or whatever and they abdicate their assumed moral authority to protect their flock, then they too are sick and even more dangerous than the wayward priests that they are covering up for.
So are those who are now fearful of a major civil law suit to bring some sort of restitution to the young men, who have suffered irreparable harm by being made to pay for a crime that they did not do. The system seems hell-bent to do anything to render Reyes’s confession irrelevant and thus avoid a lawsuit that many people are now realizing that if justice is ever to be rendered in the Central Park jogger case it is due to the victims who, for the most part, were represented by incompetent counsel.
Linda Fairstein and Elizabeth Lederer, the two district attorneys that gained fame and fortune in prosecuting the Central Park jogger case, have gone on with their lives and careers without ever having to look back. Patricia Meili, the jogger, is now willing to tell her story for big money with her aforementioned book due in the spring of 2003,although she testified that she could not remember what happened on that fateful day in April 1989 or since.
Matias Reyes, however, does know what actually happened on that fateful night thirteen years ago. He has vividly described what occurred to the prison officials, state and federal authorities and the prosecution, which is what initiated him having to submit himself to genetic testing. And his DNA has supported his version of the event.
Therefore, what are we to do about the six young men whose names and potential for higher education and decent employment were destroyed or deeply damaged because of a combination of all of the above factors? What are they to do to for themselves if they don’t get the justice that has eluded them for the last 13 years? It’s time that they finally get their day in court and freedom from the past which never should have been their misfortune in the first place.
The time is now to finally clear this tragic mess up and bring closure to one of the most infamous cases of travesty of justice in a society that for Africans or people of African descent, or the indigenous population, was founded on injustice from its inception. Whether we rectify these wrongs or fail to do so is entirely in ovr hands.
[*Don’t get upset that I mentioned her name like the media did 13 years ago when Amsterdam News publisher and editor-in-chief Wilbert A. Tatum made an earlier identification. As AmNews reporter Herb Boyd pointed out in the Amsterdam News last week (June 13-19,2002), Ms. Meili will be identifying herself in a book on the case which she has authored for the Scribner imprint of Simon & Schuster and will be published in the spring of 2003.
And remember, although Ms. Meili testified that she did not know - nor was she able to identify - who assaulted and raped her at the time, when the trial(s) were all over, she thanked the police and the prosecution for solving the case.]
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