In 1989, five Black and Hispanic teens were falsely accused of raping and nearly killing a white woman jogging in Central Park. The five became collectively known as the Central Park Five and were ultimately exonerated in 2002. Yahoo News spoke with two of the five exonerated men, Kevin Richardson and Dr. Yusef Salaam, as they look at current day events with the police killings of unarmed Black people and whether or not things have really changed regarding law enforcement or racism over the past 30 years.
KEVIN RICHARDSON: April 19, 1989, I was 14 years old at the time, and I went into the park that day just basically curious. Just wanted to hang out with the guys that I seen, and I wind up coming home seven years later.
YUSEF SALAAM: We were known back in 1989 as Central Park Five. It took 13 years for the truth to come out.
- All of the defendants gave videotaped statements to police implicating themselves or others, but some of their attorneys charged today that police obtained the confessions by force.
YUSEF SALAAM: In those 13 years, we were in prison or trying to regain our footing in a world that had seen us as guilty, had already basically looked at us as being part of the throwaway part of society, the scum of the earth, if you will.
KEVIN RICHARDSON: It's something that we went through being blamed for something we didn't do. It still haunts us to this day.
- Some members of the black community charged the arrests are a racially motivated rush to judgment.
- Was it about somebody racially targeting and profiling an African-American man?
YUSEF SALAAM: When I look at current day events--
GEORGE FLOYD: [GASPING FOR AIR]
YUSEF SALAAM: --I can't help but think about tragedies that I was made aware of going through my own personal event. We became almost a modern-day Emmett Tills, when you look at what Donald Trump placed in the papers two weeks after we were accused of-- of this horrific crime. This is the ad that was ran in New York City's newspapers in 1989. This is the ad that was ran and signed by Donald Trump himself.
KEVIN RICHARDSON: Basically calling for our heads, and what I mean by that is basically saying that we should be executed without even knowing us as people, not knowing our families, our background.
YUSEF SALAAM: And you got to remember that they had put our phone numbers, names, and addresses in New York City's newspapers. So what that means is that when he put that out there, other people took it as a nod that it was OK, that if we got a chance to get our hands on these people, we should do what they did to Emmett Till to us. It's a huge problem because in 1989, we should have been afforded what the law says.
The law says you're innocent until proven guilty. I often think, have we made progress? And I think that we have in some ways, but we've been playing the tango. And-- and the worst part about it is that if it's not been a balanced tango, then sometimes the person leading is going 18 steps back when we're supposed to be, you know, lock, step, and key. And that's not what's going on.
YUSEF SALAAM: When people are crying out in the streets and saying, "defund the police," we're looking at a president who is telling the different municipalities to militarize their police, telling their police officers to abuse and assault people who are at police abuse rallies. We haven't moved.
KEVIN RICHARDSON: Yeah, sadly, I don't think any progress was made in regards to law enforcement. I think we need-- we need more classes, police training, on-the-job training.
My 12-year-old and I had these conversations before, what would you do if you encounter a police, and to know your rights. At 12 years old, instead of the-- the birds and the bees, it's the police and things of that nature. So it's extremely hard, but it has to be done. We have to speak about this to our children. So I think we have a long way to go.
YUSEF SALAAM: There should be proper policing. There should be this-- this level of care that is offered to us by people who have voluntarily decided to participate as the security for the world. All of these jobs are jobs that people have to be at their best at all times, and the worst part about it is that we're witnessing those one mistakes. George Floyd's murder was a cry to the world that we need change.
KEVIN RICHARDSON: Could have easily been my brother, my uncle, my cousin, things of that nature. So it hits-- it hits home really hard. And nowadays in the street, we see it being on cameras, on people's phones. These things are happening in the midst of daytime.
AMY COOPER: There is an African-American man. I am in Central Park. He is recording me and threatening myself and my dog.
YUSEF SALAAM: When that young lady was-- was crying out in Central Park, one of the first things that I thought-- this is the worst thing in the world-- one of the first things I thought was, man, when they cry, we die. It-- it is a godsend that that young man had a video of the interaction of what was going on.
KEVIN RICHARDSON: I'm sure she's very sorry for what happened, but maybe she's sorry because she got caught. People true colors are coming out. And I think because of this whole white privilege thing, they think that they could see anything that they want to and there's no, like, end result to it. It just brings back to not too many things has changed since 30 years ago. There's still this concept that people of color are inferior, and when you see them, you-- you know, you're-- you're scared. And it actually saw it backfire on her, but these things happen every day.
YUSEF SALAAM: These are not anomalies. This is what happens in America. This is part of that American nightmare, right? And this is what we have to challenge because if the Central Park jogger case is a microcosm of the macrocosm of cases just like it, then that means how many other cases have been falsely adjudicated where people have gone to maybe even their deaths in prison for crimes that they have not committed.
KEVIN RICHARDSON: I know how it feels to be ridiculed and things of that nature, so I must speak up for people like that, for people that don't have a voice. We became the voice of the voiceless.
YUSEF SALAAM: I'm actually on the board of the Innocence Project, but we've been working with them, partnering with them and making sure that the innocence of the people who could be wrongfully convicted in prison gets recognized.
KEVIN RICHARDSON: And the Innocence Project helped us along with that, along with countless members of a society that helped pave the way for us. Now we must help pave the way for others. We must keep the-- the torch going and keep the legacy going.