Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Central Park Five - Burns

The Central Park Five, A Chronicle of A City Wilding by Sarah Burns is an interesting look into the situation in New York City during the late 1980's and early 1990's in regard to crime, racial tensions and politics.

I actually knew more about this story going into this book than I realized, having read the book I Am the Central Park Jogger by Trisha Meili. The story which chronicles her horrific rape and beating while jogging through Central Park in 1989.

The Central Park Five looks at the story from a different point of view. Burns discusses the events of that night and the subsequent legal battles which resulted in the imprisonment of five Harlem teens, who were African-American and/or Latino, for the rape and beating.  

Burns looks at the tough financial state of New York City leading up to this night and the crime wave it was experiencing.  She clarifies how desperately the police and DA's office needed to find and convict the guilty party and talks blatantly about the racial situation in the city at the time and how that affected the case, despite there being no evidence to tie the boys to the crime (no blood/mud match, no DNA match of hair or semen, and a timeline that just didn't fit), except clearly coerced and forced "admissions".

Each boy was sentenced and served five plus years, once serving thirteen years, despite their 14-16 age frame.

The book then addresses the prison admission years later of a rapist nicknamed the "East Side Slasher" of responsibility for the event and the process the District Attorney's office goes through to review the case, ultimately coming to the conclusion that the evidence fully supports his story and the likelihood that the convicted boys were not involved at all.

The boys eventually have the crimes removed from their records.  But given the years of very public court cases, and the fact that each of the boys has already served their sentences in full, this is of little consolation.

I really enjoyed reading this book. Though it was non-fiction, much of the book read like fiction and therefore the story was never boring. I was not surprised by the injustices that were described in the book, but was floored that so many were perpetrated by the police department and lawyers who were there to serve the city and its inhabitants. I would recommend this read to anyone who has an interest in crime stories, racial/political stories or this really does serve as a bit of a memoir for the convicted boys.

4/5- Great. Push it on your friends and family.