On Monday, the “Gate of the Exonerated” was unveiled at Central Park on 110th St. in Harlem, New York.
The gate, which is located on the northern perimeter of the park between Fifth Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard, was created to honor the Exonerated Five, the young teenagers who were wrongfully convicted of the 1989 rape of a white jogger. The gate will also be an ongoing symbol for those who were wrongfully incarcerated.
“This is a moment. This is legacy time,” said Yusef Salaam, who is one of the Exonerated Five. “We are here because we persevere.”
Our sister publication MADAMENOIRE reported this:
The project has been a long time coming and has been in the works since 2019. Community board member Karen Horry recalled working on the project “all through the pandemic” while grieving the loss of her sister to COVID-19.
“It’s a labor of love,” Horry told MADAMENOIRE. ”This is vindicating for the community. It’s monumental in many ways. Here, we’re experiencing the school-to-prison pipeline. So many people have been disenfranchised because of dealing with mass incarceration we suffer from here.”
While the Gate of the Exonerated commemorates all who are victims of criminal injustice, it is especially focused on the Exonerated Five—formerly referred to as the Central Park Five—who were charged and wrongfully convicted for the assault and rape of Trisha Meili, a white woman who was attacked while jogging in Central Park on the night of April 19, 1989. Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise, and Yusef Salaam were manipulated by law enforcement and coerced into making guilty confessionals.
The teenage boys later recanted and instead remained steadfast in their innocence. They suffered the consequences of a flawed verdict in the case and were imprisoned up to 13 years.
It was not until 2002 that justice was truly served when serial rapist and murderer Matias Reyes admitted to the rape and was linked by DNA.
The heart-wrenching story was adapted into a film that displays the lives and unjust trial of five young men in Ava Duvernay’s limited series When They See Us.
Their story—and others— is critical to the fight for racial equality, and the dismantling of corruption within the criminal justice system.
“Hopefully we are starting the re-education process,” Sharonne Salaam, mother of Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five told MN. “And that people who have been exonerated may be looked at as human beings, people who were innocent of crimes they did not do, people deserving a chance at life.”
Salaam continued, “people can now admit that there is a systemic problem of innocent people going to jail for crimes they did not do.”
The legacy of the Exonerated Five must never die. It’s a true testament to Black resilience in the face of blatant injustice. Hopefully, when folks walk through the Gate of the Exonerated, they will think about all the innocent people who’ve been wrongfully convicted. Real change starts with folks believing there’s an actual problem. Now, we have a constant reminder for anyone taking a stroll through Central Park.
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