To say that there is cause for suspicion when it comes to the NYPD is one of the gravest understatements anyone can make. But when you factor Black suspects into nearly any New York City Police Department equation, the levels of doubt are raised even higher, thanks in no small part to a number of high-profile instances of malfeasance, to put it mildly.
And while details were still being released surrounding the grisly stabbing of Tessa Majors, a college freshman in New York City earlier this week, the collective antennae of New Yorkers in the know (and probably any outside observer of color familiar with the NYPD) were raised when it was announced that a 13-year-old Black boy was arrested after he reportedly confessed during an overnight interrogation to his alleged role in the killing. A second suspect was taken into custody Friday night, the New York Post reported.
Police also reportedly ran up in a nearby public housing project and snagged a separate teenager before letting that person go early Thursday morning, suggesting racial profiling may have been at play. The NYPD was also reportedly questioning other suspects. Despite the lack of description for the second suspect, if history is any indication, chances are that they are he is Black or brown, too.
Sound familiar? If not, it should, as this case bears a number of parallels with the case of the Central Park Five — now known as the Exonerated Five — a group of Black and brown boys who were falsely arrested, charged and incarcerated for the killing of a jogger in Central Park in the 1980s.
In both cases, there was a heightened sense of urgency that seemed to be exacerbated by the fact that there was a dead white woman involved. This time around, though, In the case of Majors, New York City recently swore in its newest police commissioner, Dermot Shea (who has a history of championing racial profiling), who no doubt wants to use this killing as a defining moment for his young tenure. But the apparent circumstances surrounding Majors’ death prevented some unique challenges — namely the parallels with the Central Park Five case.
- The victim is a white woman. This fact cannot be overstated as the deaths of white women, especially murders, typically gets much more attention from law enforcement than that of a Black person regardless of sex. It is unclear if a Black or brown 18-year-old college student was found dead from apparent violence if the NYPD would have declared its “all hands on deck!” message it conveyed to the media on Thursday — a message that also went out for the case of Trisha Meili, the 28-year-old jogger raped in Central Park 1989 that resulted in the Central Park Five case.
- The only suspect in custody is Black. Zyairr Davis was identified as the 13-year-old suspect who reportedly told police that “an accomplice slashed the Barnard College student so viciously that the young teen saw ‘feathers come out of her jacket,’” according to the New York Post. That sensational account nearly mirrored those reported surrounding the Black and brown suspects in the Central Park Five case — a case that ultimately exonerated them as innocent.
- Both took place in New York City parks. While Central Park had a much more dangerous reputation 30 years ago than it does now, Morningside Park, also located in Harlem, has never really been known for violence. But Majors was jogging when she was attacked, police say — the same scenario that Meili found herself in. While that in itself is not damning, the similarities between situations can’t be ignored.
- NYPD vowed to get swift justice. That part is no surprise since that is law enforcement’s job. However, it is not law enforcement’s job to incriminate the innocent, something that was done with the Central Park Five and something that some people probably fear could happen again this time around with a 13-year-old’s reported confession taking place in the wee hours of the morning. Speaking of which…
- A teen suspect “confessed” late at night. While the Central Park Five “confessions” were obtained without any of the kids’ parents being present, it was unclear how the NYPD got Davis to confess. But it was very late, which lends credence to a suspicion that a confession may have been either coerced or the result of a drowsy young boy who just wanted to get some rest.
- No real evidence has been made public. Just like with the Central Park Five, no physical evidence has been announced or made public to corroborate cops’ claims that they have the right people. All the public knows as of Saturday morning is that the NYPD has arrested and charged a 13-year-old boy for his alleged role in the killing — all of which is based on the premise that the NYPD is telling the truth.
To be sure, this is not where the similarities stop. Another unfortunate common denominator here is the loss of innocent life, something that cannot be forgotten.
But that shouldn’t empower the NYPD or any other law enforcement agency to ruin other lives (read: Black lives) that may be innocent, just like the Exonerated Five were. Only time will tell how this all plays out, but in the meantime, the similarities between now and 30 years ago are too much to ignore.