The series, released on Netflix on Friday, captures the human price of one of America’s most infamous criminal justice odysseys. In 1989, five boys, all black and Latino and 16 or younger, werefalsely accused of a brutal rape in New York’s Central Park. The victim had no memory of the crime and nearly died. After extended interrogations that featured the denial of sleep, food and parents, as well as promises the boys could go home after confessing, four of the five made false confessions, implicating one another in the crime, on tape.
In the years that followed, the boys were tried and convicted in a city where police, reporters and prosecutors questioned their humanity, describing them in terms reserved for animals. The boys served seven to 14 years before the actual rapist — by then in prison for subsequent rapes and murder — confessed to the crime. DNA testing confirmed his story. The prosecutors decided to try the boys despite knowing during the trial that DNA evidencematched none of the boys, case records made public indicate. Last month, after a pair of screenings of the director Ava DuVernay’s Central Park Five series in New York — one audience overwhelmingly white and the other overwhelmingly black — a general reaction could be heard.
The series was good, but hard, audience members said as they filed out of the screenings. It was hard to watch.
But the horrific case dramatized in DuVernay’s series was not a 1,000-year flood event, belonging to the country’s past. Elements of what led to the Central Park Five wrongful convictions, experts say, are recurrent and ongoing features of American justice.