In a poignant interview with Time magazine, four of five black and Latino men who became known as the Central Park Five speak out about their upcoming documentary film, which is a watershed moment in American history. It’s hard not to be aware of these men, even if you don’t know them by name. They were arrested and convicted following a public outcry in the aftermath of the brutal rape and attack of a white, female jogger in Central Park in 1989.
In their haste to close the books on the horrific case, Manhattan prosecutors determined that five Harlem boys — Raymond Santana, Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson and Antron McCray, ages 14 to 16, who confessed under duress and with shaky evidence — committed the heinous crime. They were given sentences ranging from five to 11 years, which kept them behind bars for much of their adult lives.
After their sentences were up, Mathias Reyes — who was already serving 33 years to life behind bars for murder and rape — confessed to the attack in 2002. The courts exonerated the five, clearing their records of any crimes committed relating to the case. A lawsuit against the city is pending.
Fast forward to 2011, when Sarah Burns, daughter of documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, published The Central Park Five: The Untold Story Behind One of New York’s Most Infamous Crimes, examining the vicious outcry behind the case, the prosecutors’ jumbled rush to get convictions and the racial and socioeconomic atmosphere in which it all happened.
In 2012 Burns collaborated as a co-director with her father and producer David McMahon on the documentary of the same name, examining how the teens wound up imprisoned for a crime they did not commit. TIME sat down with Burns and four of the men, now in their 30s (the fifth, Antron McCray, does not do interviews regarding his ordeal, nor does he appear in the film, save for voice recordings), to talk about the film, what they have experienced and why — after all they‘ve been through — they are not bitter.
TIME: This is a hard story to tell, and one that a lot of people would want to leave behind. Why tell it?
Raymond Santana: Because we don’t want people to leave it behind. We were done so wrongly by the media and by the court system. Now that we have been vacated of all charges and everything has changed around and the powers that be want to forget about it — this is the reason why we want to tell it.
Yusef Salaam: There’s so many things that have come out of this that the city uses, the police department uses, as a basis for what they do — things like “stop and frisk.” The fact that young people are still looked at as being guilty before they can be looked at as being innocent, just because of the color of their skin.
Kevin Richardson: In ’89, we really didn’t have a voice. We were scared to speak because the negative publicity was overwhelming, so now we want to keep this fresh because we have a story to tell. Our story, the true story. And it’s amazing for people to see us as grown men now. You think, back then, the proof was there for people, but the media frenzy was so strong, people didn’t really use logic. They automatically were like, “Oh, they got guys. They’re guilty.” But if they would have taken a little time to use a little logic, then we probably wouldn’t be here speaking about this. It might be a different situation.