New York City unveiled the “Gate of the Exonerated” in Central Park Monday to honor the group of Black and Hispanic teens known as the “Central Park Five” who were wrongfully convicted of beating and raping a White female jogger in the park more than 30 years ago.
Korey Wise, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson and Yusef Salaam – individuals from the group, also known as the “Exonerated Five” – each served several years in prison before being exonerated in 2002.
Robert M. Morgenthau was the Manhattan district attorney when Matias Reyes, a serial rapist and murderer confessed to the crime and said he had acted alone.
DNA analysis later determined that Reyes did rape the jogger and that hair evidence used in the boys’ trials did not match.
Morgenthau ordered a new investigation and, on his recommendation, a judge vacated the convictions.
The city settled a lawsuit in 2014 with the five men, who were youths at the time of the crime and coerced amid a public uproar over race into confessing to the attack.
The identity of the jogger, Trish Meili, was kept hidden for more than a decade until she wrote a book about her experience.
Three of the wrongfully accused who were at the unveiling spoke of their collective struggle through injustices, the breaking of “generational curses” and continuing the fight for social justice.
“We are here because we persevered … because what was written for us was hidden from the enemies that looked at the color of our skin and not the content of our character,” Salaam said.
“They didn’t know who they had,” he added. “The system is alive and sick, and we are to ensure that the future is alive and well.”
Santana said Monday’s unveiling was the first time he had returned to the park, bringing with him – also for the first time – his 18-year-old daughter. He said the men had been mere teens at the time.
“We’re babies, that had no dealing with the law, never knew what Miranda was, but we’re here now,” he said. “Over 300 articles written about us in the first three weeks of this case, dissecting the lives of 14- and 15-year-old kids. The labels: ‘urban terrorist,’ ‘wolfpack,’” he recalled.
New York Mayor Eric Adam’s reflected on the historic moment and presented a key to the city to the exonerated five.
“History has an opportunity to rewrite the lines,” he said.
Adams, a police officer at the time, said it “was a challenging time to be in that department with 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, and standing up and fighting on behalf of these brothers.”
“We knew what had happened to them was wrong and we refuse to remain silent,” he added.
“The exonerated five is the American black boy-man story,” he said, adding, “They stood firm, they stood tall.”
Another of the five, Richardson, said he recalled the public information campaign of hate against the accused, saying there had been “ads that said four of us should be horse whipped, while the elder, Korey Wise should be hung from a tree.”
“That’s slave talk right there,” he said.
Mayor Adams said the DOE should implement school trips to talk about what happened.
“I think all of our young men and boys, the Board of Education. Chancellor Banks, we should be having school trips to talk about this story because as time moves forward, we believe that there were not real struggles to get us where we are right now and we lose the historical moments that took place,” the mayor said. “That’s why this is so significant.”
The gate was unveiled near Central Park North, between 5th Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard.
The entrance, at 110th Street, now has “Gate of the Exonerated” inscribed on the perimeter wall. It features a historical sign with background information about the entrance’s name and a QR code linking to online resources.
Earlier this year, the New York City Public Design Commission unanimously approved the project .
The unanimous vote was the fruit of years of work “with the Harlem community and Manhattan Community Board 10 to commemorate the Exonerated Five and all those wrongfully convicted of crimes,” a spokesperson for the Central Park Conservancy said in a statement earlier this year.