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A racial narrative that hasn’t changed since 1989

Updated: Dec 5, 2021

By Grace Wakim

A small black spider creeps across a kitchen table and heads for the freestanding basket of summer fruit. It silently inspects a tarnished peach, but the blonde girl eating breakfast notices. Instinctively, her human hands approach and aggressively crush the insect.

The spider never stood a chance, and neither did Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise.

The 13th Amendment abolished slavery but embedded a fixed racial narrative into American society that habitually exploits the black community. Entrenched racism persists in the white subconscious today, just as it did 30 years ago.

On the night of April 19, 1989, McCray, Richardson, Salaam, Santana and Wise enter Central Park unaware they would soon become leading suspects in one of New York City’s most controversial criminal cases. Filmmaker Ken Burns retells the wrongful conviction of five Black and Latino Harlem teenagers in his 2012 documentary “The Central Park Five.”

Police sirens blare across the park and a flock of boys disperses into the moonlit woods. Officers explode out of cop cars and chase after the group.

Cops handcuff and shove each boy into their cars, but some time passes before they leave the park and head to the station. Shortly after their arrival, officers receive information regarding 28-year-old white Wall Street banker Trisha Meili.

Park-goers discover a limp and battered body at 1:30 a.m. She was raped.

Instead of charging five teenagers with petty crimes, detectives exploit their vulnerability because it was easier to convict them of an interracial rape than hunt for matching DNA evidence.

Historian Craig Steven Wilder says, “the people who suffered most with the rise of criminality, gang wars, drug wars, were actually the people we blamed.”

Society commonly reduces a black man’s worth to the most egregious actions of other black men. The black body through white history merely remains constant: disposable. The five young, naïve Harlem boys hadn’t learned that on the day of their conviction.

Brown and Black kids were dying, and the message was their lives didn’t matter enough.

In March 2020, Louisville police officers shot EMT Briana Taylor in her home. On May 25, 2020, Minneapolis police officer pinned George Floyd to the pavement. Within 17 minutes, he showed no sign of life.

Marginalized groups still face disadvantages despite the media hype and attention of BLM movements. Black and Latino American communities suffer in a world that thrives from their lack of liberation or identity. They drown in police brutality, discrimination and invisibility.

On Dec. 11, 1990, the verdict is in: Jurors find them guilty. Richardson and Wise, now men, still sit in disbelief of their wrongful conviction.

“I lost my youth,” Richardson says.

“Their innocence never got the attention that their guilt did,” Wilder says.

Emotions run high when the five infamous Central Park Five return to spotlight 13 years after their conviction amid the confession of serial rapist Matias Reyes.

“I told you,” Santana says.

Learned cultural practices influence how Americans decipher crime and perceive criminal suspects. The detectives and prosecutors committed negligence while cracking this infamous case. Media institutions never admitted their mistakes and walked freely from their crimes.

“We tormented, we falsely accused, we pilloried in the press, we attacked, we invented phrases for the imaged crimes that we’re accusing them of,” Wilder said. “And then we put them in jail.”

Irrational fear kills spiders and innocent black boys.

Black bodies drag through hell to protect the essence of whiteness. Disposable, replaceable and “the most endangered species in America,” Rev. Calvin Butts says.

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