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June 23, 2014

New York City awards $40 million to the wrongly imprisoned “Central Park Five”


New York City will pay $40 million to five black and Latino men who 25 years ago were wrongly convicted of violently attacking a woman in Central Park; the city’s largest ever settlement in a civil rights case. The case of the “Central Park Five” was sensationalized in the media, inflaming racial tensions in the city and adding to a perception of lawlessness.

In 1989, passersby found the nearly lifeless body of a white 28-year-old woman, much later identified as Trisha Meili, in a wooded area of Central Park. She had been raped, beaten, and left for dead while jogging. She was in a coma for 12 days.

Five black and Latino defendants, all between 14 and 16, originally confessed to the crime, but later said police coerced them into confessing. Regardless, a jury convicted the five on a series of charges related to the assault, and all served sentences ranging from seven to 13 years.

A judge vacated their conviction in 2002 after a new confession and new evidence linked the attack to another man. However, it took until now to settle the decade-long civil rights lawsuit.

The recent agreement settled a suit that was brought against the police and prosecutors for wrongful arrest amid a racially motivated conspiracy.

Although the city fought against the suit for years, New York City’s new Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged to “right this injustice.”

Warm up questions
  1. Does race play a role in the way police carry out their work? Give examples to support your answers.
  2. Why are some minors (under 18) tried as adults? Is this a good idea? Answer why or why not.
Discussion questions
  1. It is now clear (and has been for a while) that the five boys charged with the crime have been innocent all along. However, each of the boys lied when they were interrogated and implicated each other. Why would these boys have lied to the police?
  2. How did race play a role in this case? Do you think if the race of the accused and victim were switched would there have been a different outcome in 1989? What about today? What about in the 1950s? Think carefully about your answer and try to support it with factual examples.
  3. Is it fair to try minors as adults? Explain your answer?
  4. The five boys accused in the case were found guilty and served 7-13 years in prison. Twenty-five years later the city of New York is paying out a $40 million settlement to them. Is that fair? Why or why not?
  5. Why did the Central Park Five case have such a powerful impact on the country back in 1989?  Does it still today?
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