By now, the news of the $40 million settlement from the city of New York being given to the Central Park 5 is old news. The five men, all black and Latino, who were teens at the time of the rape of the jogger, were accused, convicted and thrown into prison despite their claims of innocence. They were completely exonerated after the real rapist confessed and his DNA was the only DNA found on the victim and are out of prison, but one can only wonder what their lives have been like since being released…and what their lives will be like as they move forward. Some will never accept the fact that these men were/are innocent, in spite of the confession of the real rapist.
Which brings me to the issue I’ve been struggling with for a while. When the boys, who were accused of “wilding” were arrested, the city of New York and indeed, the entire nation was outraged. That these black and Latino men would be so primitive, so savage, was insulting to the conscience of the nation, it seemed. Donald Trump took out a full-page ad in a New York newspaper and wondered out loud, in print, where the death penalty was.
That the rape was troubling is understandable; that it was so brutal is disturbing…but what is troubling is that the nation is not as incensed at the wrong done to these young men as it was at the thought that they had raped that unfortunate woman. The Ken Burns documentary, “The Central Park 5,” showed a rape of a different sort: the rape of innocent young black and Latino men, forced into making confessions, and then being railroaded through a trial and thrown into prison with little effort to hear them, believe them…and look for the real rapist. (http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/centralparkfive/)
Black, brown and poor people have been “raped” by the justice system in this nation since the beginning of our existence. In spite of touting the fact that the United States has the greatest justice system in the world, the fact is that when it has come to black, brown and poor people, justice has seldom worked. In the case of black people, the race card has been played as a matter of course. A black person accused of any crime has been presumed to be guilty even going into a trial; a black person accused of talking to, accosting or threatening a white woman has been decided to be guilty and the courts have refused to exonerate them even when it is clear white women have lied about their supposed experiences too many times. In many cases, the justice system and white community have colluded and brought not justice, but horrific injustice to innocent black people. I just finished Fire in the Canebrake by Laura Wexler, the story of the “worst mass lynching” in the history of our nation. Four people, two black men and two black women, were lynched…and their families never got justice. In Gilbert King’s book, Devil in the Grove, justice for four black men, falsely accused of raping a 17-year-old white girl, was elusive; they were all headed for the electric chair in spite of evidence that they had not raped the girl and in spite of heroic efforts of then-attorney Thurgood Marshall and his team to free them. The “justice system” was bound and determined that “outsiders,” in both these cases, would not bully them into doing things differently than they had always done. The “nigras” were deemed to be unworthy of justice, and so they got little.
I couldn’t help but think of those stories, and the story of what happened with Trayvon Martin and Kendrick Johnson and so many other young black people who have gotten in trouble with the law and are either still in prison for crimes they have not done or have been executed already. This nation has not owned up to its troubled record of dishing out injustice to black people, especially, but to brown and poor people as well. Rather than admitting that America still has a problem seeing black people as human beings and not objects, America continues to insist that nothing is wrong. But something very definitely is.
If we go back to the Central Park 5, it would have been nice to see Donald Trump take out another full-page ad, this one apologizing for what he had pronounced when the boys were arrested and for proclaiming their guilt. Instead, he sought to justify his stance and said something to the effect that they were “not innocents.” He said that the settlement was a disgrace and that it was the “heist of the century.” (http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/central-park-dad-40m-settlement-article-1.1837710)
There was no grace from him, only his typical rich-boy white arrogance.
There are black, brown and poor families throughout this nation that are looking for, needing, justice and will never get it. The nation is not committed to giving justice to all people; prosecutors are, for the most part, more interested in obtaining victories than in obtaining justice.
America’s disease of white supremacy and its attendant racism is terminal. A nation cannot thrive if it ultimately denies justice so regularly and systemically to a group of people – people who, by the way, work for this nation, have helped defend this nation, and pay taxes in this nation.
What happens to a dream deferred, asked poet Langston Hughes?
Why does the caged bird sing, asked the late Maya Angelou?
And what happens if America continues to ignore those questions, and more?
A whole group of people is crying, but the nation seems not to care.
A candid observation …