Education

Two members of Central Park 5 are speaking at Duke University next week

Yusef Salaam, one of the five men whose convictions in a brutal 1989 rape were overturned, outside City Hall in New York, June 27, 2014. With a new Netflix series revisiting the case of the wrongfully convicted teenage boys, a writer who covered the original trial looks back on a warped time, and the warping of truth.
Yusef Salaam, one of the five men whose convictions in a brutal 1989 rape were overturned, outside City Hall in New York, June 27, 2014. With a new Netflix series revisiting the case of the wrongfully convicted teenage boys, a writer who covered the original trial looks back on a warped time, and the warping of truth. NYT

Thirty years ago they were innocent teenagers facing prison sentences after being wrongly convicted of brutally raping and assaulting a woman in New York City’s Central Park.

Now, the five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem, known as the Central Park Five, are called the Exonerated Five. Their charges and names were cleared when another man confessed to the crimes in 2002. Their stories were recently featured in the Netflix miniseries “When They See Us.”

Two of the members, Yusef Salaam and Raymond Santana, will speak at two free events at Duke University next week.

They will first share their story of being found guilty of rape, assault, robbery and riot and serving several years behind bars on Monday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m. in Page Auditorium. The event, “Now They Hear Us: Living Without Regret and Inspiring Future Generations,” will also feature a conversation with professor Mark Anthony Neal, chairman of Duke’s Department of African & African American Studies.

Salaam and Santana will also participate in a panel discussion of their experience in the criminal justice system at Duke Law School on Tuesday, Sept. 3 at 12:30 p.m.

“The case highlights the urgency needed to address the many fault lines that exist in our criminal justice system and in the newsrooms and courts of popular opinion across the nation,” Neal said in a news release. “That Mr. Santana and Mr. Salaam, along with their peers, have been given this rarest opportunity to see some semblance of justice, years after the fact, and are brave enough to share the deep trauma that they are still attempting to transcend, should be inspiration to all.”

Salaam and Santana’s stories — along with Korey Wise, Antron McCray and Kevin Richardson — were recently featured in a critically-acclaimed, four-part Netflix miniseries “When They See Us.” Filmmaker Ava DuVernay produced the series, which was published earlier this year, and dubbed the group the Exonerated Five to better reflect their status and reclaim their humanity.

The boys were tried and convicted of attacking and raping a young woman jogging in Central Park in 1989. They were between 14 and 16 years old when they were arrested. Their charges varied, including attempted murder, rape, assault, robbery and riot, and they served between six and 13 years in prison. In 2002, a convicted murderer and serial rapist confessed to the crime, which was supported by DNA evidence. The court withdrew all charges for each of them and vacated their sentences. They were also removed from the sex offender registry.

Santana, who was 14 when he was wrongfully convicted and served five years in prison, is now an activist, producer, fashion designer and founder of Park Madison NYC, according to Duke. Salaam, who was 15 and served more than 6 years in prison, is now a motivational speaker and advocate who addresses disparities in America’s criminal justice system, according to Duke. He also serves on the board of The Campaign to End the Death Penalty and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from President Obama in 2016.

Professor James Coleman, co-director of the law school’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic, will introduce the men at the panel discussion Tuesday. Law professor Brandon Garrett, a leading scholar of criminal procedure, scientific evidence and wrongful convictions, will interview them about what they went through as boys in the criminal justice system.

“Mr. Salaam and Mr. Santana are powerful speakers with a remarkable story to tell,” Jamie Lau, a clinical professor of law, said in a news release. “Their arrest and conviction was used nationally to characterize black youths as increasingly dangerous criminals, yet it was a flawed criminal justice system that terrorized these innocent young men.”

Lau, who is also the supervising attorney for Duke’s Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility, said their story is a “cautionary tale for any aspiring or practicing lawyer.” The case is an example of how the justice system fails when criminal charges and prosecutions are brought hastily, personal biases interfere and shortcuts trump a meticulous search for the truth, he said.

‘Now They Hear Us: Living Without Regret and Inspiring Future Generations’

When: Monday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m.

Where: Page Auditorium, Duke University.

Cost: Free, but tickets are required. Get up to two tickets per person from Duke University Box Office or online at tickets.duke.edu.

Parking: Available in the Bryan Center Parking Garage for $5 cash.

Sponsors: Department of African & African American Studies and Duke Law School.

Panel discussion

When: Tuesday, Sept. 3 at 12:30 p.m.

Where: Duke Law School, Room 3014.

Cost: FREE and tickets are not required.

Parking: Visitor parking is available in the Science Drive lot.

Sponsors: The Office of Black Church Studies, the Center for Muslim Life, the Dean of the Social Sciences, Duke Student Affairs, Duke Chapel, the Forum for Scholars and Publics, the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, the Office of Faculty Advancement and Trinity College of Arts & Sciences are co-sponsors of the event, the news release said.

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