Should NYC Compensate the Wrongly Convicted Central Park Five?

Content note: Sexual assault, violence, racism.

The Central Park Five are the five men who were wrongfully convicted for the 1989 rape of a jogger in Central Park. A few weeks ago I wrote about the Central Park Five for the Guardian. It’s a heartbreaking case — the jogger barely survived the attack, and suffered enormous physical trauma. The city was enraged and hungry for a conviction. Donald Trump put out a “bring back the death penalty” ad in response to the crime. Five black and Latino boys were interrogated for hours and deprived of sleep until they confessed; once actually arrested and charged with the crime, they recanted. Racial tensions boiled, with racist caricatures of of-color youth going “wilding,” prowling the streets in a “wolf pack” for innocent white victims proliferating in the white-dominated media. While the woman was generally treated as an innocent victim, even she didn’t totally escape victim-blaming — writing about this case even 20 years later inevitably leads to many people asking, “Why was she jogging in Central Park late at night? What did she think was going to happen?”

(Answer: At the time the assault happened, Central Park was actually significantly statistically safer in terms of violent crime than many of the areas around it).

Here’s my summary:

More than 20 years ago, the Central Park jogger rape case roiled New York City, stoking racial tensions and fanning the flames of widespread fear and frustration with pervasive crime and violence. The jogger, a 28-year-old investment banker, was raped and brutally beaten; she barely survived. A group of five black and Latino teenage boys was implicated in the crime. Four of the five confessed on videotape. The boys later recanted, but were all convicted. The media storm around the crime and the trial latched onto the narrative of roving gangs of kids from the projects going “wilding”, attacking unsuspecting victims in the park and robbing them, beating them or worse.

More than a decade later, DNA evidence and the confession of the man tied to it proved the innocence of the “Central Park Five”. They were released from prison and saw their convictions vacated. Three of the five – now men who spent much of their adult lives in prison – filed a lawsuit against the city in 2003.

This case is interesting for a lot of reasons, but especially because it shines a light on coercive interrogation tactics. Most of us think that an admission of guilt is the most air-tight evidence aside from DNA. Who would ever admit to a crime they didn’t commit? But it’s not that simple:

The Central Park jogger case is particularly compelling because it flies in the face of what we believe to be common sense about criminal convictions. A confession, it would seem, is the most ironclad proof of guilt: why would anyone in their right mind confess to a crime they didn’t commit? How could five boys all confess to the same crime if they weren’t actually responsible?

What Law & Order and whodunit thrillers won’t tell you is that false confessions are startlingly common. According to the Innocence Project, 25% of innocent defendants who were exonerated with DNA evidence made incriminating statements or full-on confessions. A disproportionate number of those who falsely confess are mentally challenged or have mental health problems; children and adolescents also routinely fail to understand their rights during a police interrogation. And false confessions are, sadly, an American tradition: even back in 1692, 50 different women “confessed” to witchcraft in the Salem witch trials.

Police officers want to get the bad guy, but too often they pick what they believe to be the most plausible story and ratchet the facts into it. By the time the police are interrogating a subject, they’ve determined that the person is probably guilty of the crime. The goal of the interrogation isn’t to learn the truth: it’s to solidify guilt.

That viewpoint lends itself to a mentality where coercive interrogation techniques are justified. Most of the techniques that police officers use are legal – lying to the arrestee, falsely claiming there’s evidence implicating him, deceiving him, intimidating him, minimizing the crime and its potential consequences to make a confession seem like an easy out. One of the most troubling coercive tactics is intentional sleep deprivation, to make a suspect more psychologically susceptible to suggestion. Sleep deprivation may sound relatively benign, but it’s been widely used as a powerful instrument of torture. Depriving a person of sleep removes their ability to think and act coherently. They have delusions and hallucinations, and the desire for sleep becomes so desperate that a person deprived of it will often do almost anything for reprieve – including, as happened in the Central Park case, admitting to murder.

We know significantly more about the dangers of coercive interrogation techniques now than we did a few decades ago, but investigators and criminal law experts have long warned of the consequences of relying on such techniques. New York City chose to disregard those warnings until very, very recently (the city now has some stop-gaps to try to prevent coercive interrogations; they’re far from perfect, but they are a start). The Central Park case highlights the damage done by relying on coercive techniques — five innocent men spent much of their lives in prison, and a woman who barely survived a brutal assault had to undergo the trauma of realizing that the men convicted of raping her weren’t actually the ones who did it. To top it off, the man who actually did commit the Central Park Rape — a man who was eventually tied to the crime through DNA evidence — was a brutal serial rapist who had assaulted several women and his own mother before the Central Park Jogger, and went on to assault at least one more woman, the details of which are so horrific I’m not going to type them here, but you can click over to the Guardian piece if you want to know more.

In the Times today, several commentators debate whether the Central Park Five should be compensated by the City of New York for their false convictions.

I know that the district attorney concluded that “there is a probability that the new evidence … would have resulted in verdicts more favorable to the defendants.” But whatever doubts he had about the case, I know he never declared the defendants to be innocent. I know that he did not find that the prosecutors and police officers involved in the original investigation had acted improperly, and that they deny engaging in misconduct.

If the city’s police deliberately and wrongfully harm individuals by violating their rights, the city must accept responsibility and pay damages. But if defendants who were not involved in a crime are mistakenly convicted by a jury as a result of the efforts of police and prosecutors who were acting in good faith, the city should not pay for a mistaken result. When Robert M. Morgenthau, the former district attorney, had a doubt about the convictions, he took action. But, contrary to the view that, unfortunately, is becoming a norm in our society, not every bad thing that happens makes someone entitled to recompense by the government. Absent proof of intentional wrongdoing by the city’s agents, the city should not pay.

Was there intentional wrongdoing insofar as the police and prosecutors knew that the confessions were false? Probably not. Given their positions, did they know (or should they have known) that the interrogation techniques used were faulty, and that there was a good chance the confessions were false, and the total lack of physical evidence (including DNA from someone else) meant that the case wasn’t nearly well enough established, and that the media circus and city-wide anger did not create an environment conducive to a fair trial? Yeah.

The Central Park Five deserve justice. But more importantly, police departments and prosecutors offices around the country need to take a good hard look at this case, and realize it’s a high-profile version of a situation that happens over and over and over — that there are many people in prison right now (and some who have been executed) who didn’t commit the crimes of which they were convicted. Our justice system only works if its agents perform the role of justice-seeks — not vengeance-seekers, not conviction-getters. And unfortunately, it’s been proven time and again that those agents aren’t going to do t hat on their own. Police departments need to institute comprehensive measures and rules that regulate interrogations; police departments should also videotape interrogations fully, and should abide by Miranda rules (ideally, they would go beyond the Miranda rules and abandon coercive tactics).

This case is a tragedy, and an avoidable one. But it seems like the city, and police departments across the country, have learned very little.


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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113 Responses to Should NYC Compensate the Wrongly Convicted Central Park Five?

  1. tmc says:

    Five boys were tortured until they confessed and then were imprisoned, where they were certainly exposed to ever more violence and abuse, and had their lives taken away. Fuck yes they deserve compensation.

    Absent proof of intentional wrongdoing by the city’s agents, the city should not pay.

    Right, and even though no one in the justice system “intends” to imprison and disenfranchise POCs at astronomical rates, it still manages to happen. They can shove their good intentions up their asses as far as I’m concerned.

    • miga says:

      I’ll bet if someone accidentally sold that commenter soup with a hair in it s/he’d still want a refund.

      • igglanova says:

        win

      • samanthab. says:

        Hmm. Hair in the soup vs. a decade in prison for a crime one is innocent of. One of these things is kind of not like the other. Also, I think it is generally the policy of most restaurants to give a refund in that situation. They have to answer to the health dept. Apparently, NYPD answers to no one.

      • miga says:

        That was my point. One of these things is soooooo much less of a big deal than the other.

  2. Jenn says:

    I don’t agree with the commentator you quoted. I believe that harm has been done to these men by the false conviction, whether or not it was deliberate or wrongful. In order for our system of justice to be meaningful we need to admit that it’s not perfect and try to make things right when flaws like this cause harm. If there’s no cost to the people who enforce our justice system for mistakes like this, what motivation do they have to make it right?

    In addition we have five men who have lost part of their lives. It’s not just the loss of time, but the loss of opportunities for the future. As a society we should make sure they’re taken care of because we’re directly responsible for that loss.

  3. chana says:

    I’m not comfortable focusing on one of the few occasions of wrongful rape conviction. MRAs bring up the Duke lacrosse case to give a false sense that wrongful accusations, arrests and prosecutions are more common than they are.

    Feminists have to repeat over and over again that these occurrences are exceedingly rare, but male POC activists think that their issues take precedence. Bringing this issue into an explicitly feminist space simply adds fuel to the fire and invites charges of hypocrisy.

    • tmc says:

      Well as a black woman, I’m not comfortable dismissing an especially egregious example of racist fuckery, especially one that calls to mind the ongoing strategy of reimagining black men as inherently dangerous to white women.

      • TomSims says:

        “Well as a black woman, I’m not comfortable dismissing an especially egregious example of racist fuckery, especially one that calls to mind the ongoing strategy of reimagining black men as inherently dangerous to white women.”

        You are spot on. I’m white, but it is clear our judicial system is completely racist. The Innocence Project has gotten many men out of jail, 99% of them black and many from false rape charges. This is completely different from the Duke Rape case which was about privileged white boys with rich parents that could afford high priced lawyers. And the only other famous false rape case in recent memory was again against 5 young black men in the Hofstra Rape Case. But fortunately they had a cell phone video clearing them of all charges. Otherwise they would have been doing long prison terms.

    • For Christ’s sake.

      Post about rape, the male POCs come out of nowhere to wibble about false conviction rates. Post about false conviction rates, the women turn up to whinge about how this should have been about rape.

      Seriously, is there no way for everyone to grasp that if it’s not about you, it’s, uh, NOT ABOUT YOU?

    • Jill says:

      I’m not comfortable focusing on one of the few occasions of wrongful rape conviction. MRAs bring up the Duke lacrosse case to give a false sense that wrongful accusations, arrests and prosecutions are more common than they are.

      Feminists have to repeat over and over again that these occurrences are exceedingly rare, but male POC activists think that their issues take precedence. Bringing this issue into an explicitly feminist space simply adds fuel to the fire and invites charges of hypocrisy.

      …no. Bringing issues of criminal justice into feminist spaces is necessary. Look at what happened here: Because of bad police interrogation tactics and an overzealous prosecution, five innocent men went to jail and more women were raped. This case got lots of attention because the victim was imaged as a Patriarchy-Approved Good Woman, and the men who were convicted of assaulted her were imaged as Bad Men. By relying on that narrative, women who don’t fit into that mold are further marginalized and mistreated when they report rape. That is absolutely a necessary conversation in a feminist space.

      False accusations of rape are exceedingly rare. Wrongful convictions for all sorts of crimes are also rare, but they do happen — including in rape cases. The question is where to situate the blame, and where to institute changes. “Bitches lie about rape” isn’t really a thing that happens more than anyone else lies about any other crime. But people being wrongfully convicted — not because of lying victims, but because of errors in the system — does happen. And it does need to be discussed, even if you’re “not comfortable” with it.

      • James says:

        It’s seems like the MRA’s like to brew the whole shebang into one big morass of “bitches lie about rape,” but the truth is a lot more varied and subtle. Police coerce POC accused into false confessions, victims into false statements, false identifications, etc. Granted, that’s all relatively rare (and actual false accusations even rarer) but I think Jill’s point about a law enforcement system that presumes guilt and then ‘fits the pieces in later’ is a well-taken one; and one that needs to be systematically addressed in law enforcement.

      • TomSims says:

        ” Police coerce POC accused into false confessions, victims into false statements, false identifications, etc. Granted, that’s all relatively rare ”

        Not rare at all. There are more black men in prison than in college.

      • Anon21 says:

        Not rare at all. There are more black men in prison than in college.

        But were most of them wrongly convicted, in the sense that they’re innocent of the crime for which they’re incarcerated? I really doubt it. I agree with James that false confessions and false identifications are probably quite rare. That’s because most of the time, non-confession and non-eyewitness evidence of the crime is overwhelming. But obviously, even at “quite rare,” this is a serious problem.

        And that doesn’t even get to the primary reasons behind your statistic, which include racially biased enforcement patterns and unjust drug laws.

      • Jadey says:

        I agree with James that false confessions and false identifications are probably quite rare. That’s because most of the time, non-confession and non-eyewitness evidence of the crime is overwhelming.

        Citation? Because I’ve taken recent classes in forensic psychology (including the use of eyewitness testimony, confessions, etc.) and this was not the information that I received. Quite the opposite.

        There is the “CSI effect” though, which is that because of crime shows like CSI which greatly exaggerate A) the amount of forensic evidence that is collected in most jurisdictions and B) the speed and accuracy with which we can process this evidence, members of the public have inflated expectations about the type of evidence which is routinely presented at trial.

      • Anon21 says:

        It’s not forensic evidence, except maybe for sex crimes and homicides. (But there, the forensic evidence is often quite strong.)

        Generally, drug convictions involve police officers, people who are trained to observe facial features, making one or more in-person transactions with the offender. Or they involve the seizure of drugs from the offender’s person, house, or car at the time of arrest.

        Gun convictions generally come about from seizures of the firearm from the offender’s person during a stop and frisk or arrest or car during a traffic stop.

        Robbery convictions generally involve recovering the stolen stuff from the perpetrator’s person or house.

        Child porn convictions come about from verified IP logs of the offender accessing illegal content, and additional illegal content is virtually always recovered from the offender’s computer.

        Most cases are slam dunks for the prosecution. Eyewitness testimony and confession are only decisive in a small minority of cases. Cases weak enough to depend on a single eyewitness’s identification generally plead out to greatly reduced charges or are simply dismissed.

        Again, none of that is to say that unreliable eyewitness identifications and false confessions aren’t huge problems that compromise the integrity of the justice system. But they are not in any way the primary drivers of the sky-high incarceration rate for people of color, and neither are wrongful* convictions.

        *In the sense of factual innocence, again setting aside the unjust nature of the laws and policing practices that make the convictions possible.

      • miga says:

        Example: I do remember reading an article about how maintaining or not maintaining eye contact is a “good” indicator of guilt for police, however eye-contact etiquette varies from culture to culture. This meant that many PoC youths (Native American and African American young men, I remember specifically) were often harassed for crimes they didn’t commit, because they “looked” guilty.

      • William says:

        But they are not in any way the primary drivers of the sky-high incarceration rate for people of color, and neither are wrongful* convictions.

        Illinois no longer has a death penalty because of the sheer volume of wrongful convictions that were being discovered. A Republican governor stopped executions in general because of how many people were being discovered to be innocent. Think about that for a second.

        Read about the John Burge case in Chicago, about how the city conspired to straight up torture black men into confessing to crimes, how Daley built his career on those convictions, how the police and city officials continue to stonewall investigations into what happened. Then think for a minute about how many people sit in prison who cannot be exonerated because they were convicted of crimes where DNA wasn’t a factor.

        Its a monster of a problem.

      • Anon21 says:

        It is a monster of problem, and false confession and false identifications are probably much more significant in a statistical sense when it comes to murder convictions, for a few reasons. 1) Prosecutors rarely dismiss murder charges for lack of evidence. 2) Police are more interested in clearing murder cases than in clearing other cases, leading them to coerce confessions. 3) Murder is much less likely to leave living witnesses to the offense conduct, making other sources of evidence (including confession) more important to building a case.

        But I was responding specifically to TomSims’ invocation of the horrifying statistic of more black men in prison than in college. As to the vast majority of those cases (which are of course not homicides), neither eyewitness identification nor confessions made the difference in securing a conviction. And the vast majority of offenders did commit the crime they were convicted of. It’s important to keep that baseline reality in mind in building a movement to end mass incarceration—yes, most people in prison committed a crime, but most of them still should not be incarcerated.

        For the reasons above, I think the incidence of false confessions and false identifications are highly relevant to deciding whether it’s okay to execute people based on the outputs of our deeply flawed criminal justice system. And in any case, if the only significant evidence is a confession or an eyewitness’s identification, that case needs a long, hard look. But that doesn’t describe many cases in an absolute sense.

      • Jadey says:

        Anon21, I can see where you are coming from on this, and I am aware that the over-representation of racially (and otherwise) marginalized men (and women) in prison is due to a cataclysmic fuck-storm of factors, only some of which have to due with false allegations and convictions. But I think I don’t like the use of your phrase “quite rare”, which to me translates to “almost never happens”. It does happen. It happens way more than it ought to. It may happen less now, but many of the people serving sentences now were convicted at times when standards for evidence were even lower (especially with the US’s ridiculously long sentencing practices – seriously, wtf). I read your statement as an exaggerated down-playing of this factor.

        But we are on the same page in that our systems of incarceration are generally unjust, notwithstanding the accuracy of the offenders’ convictions.

    • sabrina says:

      no just no.
      When police prosecute the wrong person in any case, but especially a rape case it does hurt us as women. The wrong person was convicted-which means that the actual rapist is still out there, presumably raping others, and this is the thing which we really need to focus on in these types of cases, is that he could go after his original victim again in order to shut her up so that new evidence can’t be brought up. Wrongful conviction hurt victims. We need to be talking about these things.

      • chana says:

        But won’t this become the automatic excuse for anyone accused?

        “But look at the Central Park jogger case! The justice system isn’t fair to teh Menz! Anyone locked up for rape could be innocent!”

      • But won’t this become the automatic excuse for anyone accused?

        …she says, as if this isn’t already an automatic excuse.

        Honestly, chana, do you not think that getting as close as possible to eliminating false convictions aids the feminist movement or rape victims? Because I have to boggle at your thought process if you don’t.

      • Jill says:

        But won’t this become the automatic excuse for anyone accused?

        “But look at the Central Park jogger case! The justice system isn’t fair to teh Menz! Anyone locked up for rape could be innocent!”

        The Central Park Jogger case happened. It exists. If stupid people want to use it as an argument, they can. Discussing it thoughtfully doesn’t make an asinine argument any more grounded.

      • tmc says:

        Oddly enough, everything you’re saying right now can likewise be used as an excuse for women of color to give mainstream feminism the side-eye. Funny how that works.

      • Didn't Mean to Intrude says:

        I apologize but…. is this really what we’re doing?

        Five people of color had a huge chunk of their lives stolen from them by a justice system/society that has repeatedly proven itself to operate under atrocious racial preconceptions, and falsely cast into a prison system that has a reputation (a lauded reputation in huge swaths of the country) of treating its prisoners with exceptional cruelty. To say the least, the emotional/psychological suffering these men (yes, men) have endured is quite likely unimaginable to most of us.

        And the only way we’re going to discuss it is if we eek out exactly how it affects the rest of us?

        Don’t get me wrong, I agree (strongly) with Jill’s assertion that there is a strong feminist component to this issue and we should certainly be discussing it.

        But…. Look, I guess this comes down to a personal thing with me. We spend so much time and energy trying to get other people to empathize (among other things) with the plight of women. It is disheartening, then, to see that when faced with the plights of others we are so unwilling to engage with them ourselves. Instead we squabble about what we are going to get out of the story at hand.

      • EG says:

        But won’t this become the automatic excuse for anyone accused?

        “But look at the Central Park jogger case! The justice system isn’t fair to teh Menz! Anyone locked up for rape could be innocent!”

        The fact is that the justice system is not fair to black men. At all. And yeah, when there isn’t a survivor able to identify the rapist, as in this case there wasn’t, and the cops pick up some black kids, not even men, and torture them into confessing (sleep deprivation was a tactic used by witch-hunters to extract confessions as well), we damn well should wonder if those kids are innocent after all.

      • piny says:

        Women are also incarcerated, and incarcerated wrongly–I don’t know what the numbers are on eyewitness ID and crimes allegedly committed by female perpetrators, but I’d be surprised if we were less racist towards accused black women.

        Women also suffer from our increasingly punitive, anti-rehabilitative system, which is exactly the mindset that absolves law-enforcement of abuse.

        Oh, and you can draw a pretty straight line from criminalizing sectors of the population to being A-OK with prison rape.

    • prairielily says:

      This really isn’t a wrongful rape conviction in the MRA-logic-sense. The jogger WAS raped, just not by the people who were convicted. MRAs like to go on about how women that they *actually had sex with* could accuse them of rape willy-nilly. (Or at least women that they actually know.)That’s the part that’s a fantasy.

      Being misidentified as the rapist in a stranger-rape case because of a racist society’s expectations and a miscarriage of justice? Something else entirely.

    • Jadey says:

      Misidentification by police /= false claim by victim.

      That you would confuse the two says a fuck of a lot.

    • Fenriswolf says:

      What? No. Just no. This is not a What About the Men? It’s not a derail. It’s pertinent as all hell because everyone, feminists included, should care about revolting things like this happening.

      Nor is it remotely similar to the Duke case. On many, many levels.

    • samanthab. says:

      I haven’t seen that it’s standard policy around here to focus on false accusations of rape. As Jill points out, the victim was doubly victimized here. She deserved to have the attacker brought to attention, and she played no part in the disgusting tactics of NYPD. I think it’s absolutely in the best interest of every victim that justice is served and not cruelly disregarded.

  4. Goddamn. Goddamn, goddamn, those poor kids. Fucking hell. I hadn’t heard of this case before.

    Of course they need compensation. Of course they need support. They were fucking tortured, how is that not obvious? (And if you think sleep deprivation isn’t torture, you’re so fucking stupid your human card needs to be revoked already.)

    • tmc says:

      They were fucking tortured, how is that not obvious?

      Exactly. The fact that this is even considered up for debate is blowing my fucking mind. Torture sans “intentional wrongdoing” (my ass) is still fucking torture.

      • Intentional wrongdoing – SERIOUSLY?!?!?

        Fucking hell. I just. Okay. You know what? I was sorta-kinda-unintentionally sleep-deprived by people as a method of trying to force me to “just push through” my disability. I KNOW how hellish it is to not be allowed to sleep, or be constantly woken and told to keep interacting. Much less thinking. Fuck. And by the time I was crying and begging to be allowed to sleep because I was so tired, just so tired, and my limbs weren’t working right and I was nodding off standing up… yeah. I’d have confessed to murdering babies if I’d have been allowed to sleep at the end of it, and I wasn’t even being CONSISTENTLY sleep-deprived (just enough to never let me get more than a couple of hours).

        Okay, maybe this is a hot button for me, but still. Sleep deprivation isn’t the minor thing people

      • tmc says:

        Exactly. Without sleep, we die. Depriving someone of sleep is on par with depriving them of food, water, or air. If you withhold it for long enough, they will die. That is just straight-up torture.

    • (BFing)Sarah says:

      Agreed 100% with both you and @tmc.

  5. Anon21 says:

    But, contrary to the view that, unfortunately, is becoming a norm in our society, not every bad thing that happens makes someone entitled to recompense by the government.

    I mean, maybe not if the “bad thing that happens” is something like being injured in a car accident or losing your cell phone on the subway.

    But when the government locks you up in a hellhole for twelve years, it really doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch to say it’s the government that should pay for destroying your life. Koch implies that the claim for compensation reflects some kind of entitlement mentality. But in fact, what he’s claiming is a special entitlement for government to be immune from the normal rule that those who inflict harm must compensate their victims.

    • Kristen J. says:

      That jumped out at me as well. I mean, yes, I do think we should care for one another if one of us has a run of bad luck…but equating being tortured and imprisoned with bad luck is vile and disgusting.

  6. Thalia says:

    Of the five people in this Room for Debate, two argue for compensation (the two people of colour, as it happens) and two argue against (both affiliated with NYC and both white, as it happens) and one doesn’t answer the question (also white, as it happens).

    *sigh*

  7. Thalia says:

    Of the five people in this Room for Debate, two argue for compensation (the two people of colour, as it happens) and two argue against (both affiliated with NYC and both white, as it happens) and one doesn’t answer the question (also white, as it happens).

    *sigh*

  8. Andie says:

    Regardless of intentional or unintentional wrongdoing, if someone is wrongly convicted of a crime and spends 12 friggin’ years in prison, hell yeah they should be compensated, whether it’s because they were tortured into a confession or it was a fucking clerical error.

    It’s not exactly a ‘minor inconvenience’ yanno?

  9. tmc says:

    Is there any reason I seem to be on perma-mod? Not a single one of my posts is getting through.

  10. Bagelsan says:

    Okay, so if we’re (sort of) agreed that they should be compensated… how? Monetarily? By finding them jobs, paying for their college, giving them a good (re)start in life? Just handing them each a million bucks seems short-sighted at best.

    • Jill says:

      Yeah, but that’s basically how our civil system works.

    • Bagelsan,

      I’d consider fully paid colleges/vocational training (should they wish to attend) and paying living costs while they go to college, therapy expenses should they wish it, and/or monetary compensation, at the very least. Considering the current US climate, I would imagine helping with their education would probably go farther than a simple monetary payment of the same amount, and they probably need therapy at this point. Fuck knows I would.

    • Esti says:

      Handing them a million bucks obviously wouldn’t make up for what happened to them, but I’m really not comfortable with the idea that their compensation should come with strings attached. Maybe they don’t want to go to college, and they shouldn’t be economically “encouraged” to do so by telling them the compensation for the years of their lives they lost is conditional on them doing what the State things is right for their future. If they want to blow a lump sum on candy and beer, I will happily pay my share of that in taxes.

      (That said, I think the government should absolutely be providing voluntary assistance in helping these men transition to non-prison life, should they want it, and therapy should definitely be on offer as part of that.)

      • Jill says:

        Everything Esti said. The government should absolutely provide voluntary assistance for men and women transitioning to non-prison life — not just because it’s a moral good, but because it’s better for society and cheaper to boot. The U.S. criminal system imprisons certain classes of people from adolescence through adulthood; it mentally trains certain classes of people to understand that their lives will involve regular police conduct and incarceration. There are all kinds of devastating psychological impacts from that, but one of them is that lots of folks who have spent their entire lives in prison do not actually know how to function on the outside, and end up back in prison. Breaking down that system is necessary.

        That aside, yeah, these men were wronged in horrific ways, and the way our system repays wrong is with cash money (or with criminal convictions). Like anyone else who is wronged, I think they deserve damages, and they can decide to spend their money however they want.

      • Tim says:

        How about both? ALL the voluntary assistance with college, therapy, and whatnot they want (and only what they want) AND (at least) $1,000,000, tax-free?

      • EG says:

        they shouldn’t be economically “encouraged” to do so by telling them the compensation for the years of their lives they lost is conditional on them doing what the State things is right for their future. If they want to blow a lump sum on candy and beer, I will happily pay my share of that in taxes.

        Agreed. After what it has done, the State has no business claiming to know what is best for them or their future.

      • Esti, absolutely. It’s why I specified all my recommendations with “if they wish it”. I can see the government turning “we’ll do that for you if you want” to “if you don’t do it you’re probably suspect” horrifyingly easily.

      • Fenriswolf says:

        Abso-fucking-lutely. What you said.

    • Fat Steve says:

      Okay, so if we’re (sort of) agreed that they should be compensated… how? Monetarily? By finding them jobs, paying for their college, giving them a good (re)start in life? Just handing them each a million bucks seems short-sighted at best.

      Give them each an Applebees franchise.

    • karak says:

      My concern would actually be giving them money. This money needs to be “managed” to guarantee it will be a continued source of income into their futures. They’ve spent most of their lives in prison, I doubt they understand the basics of financial management, from budgeting to taxes to investments to simply opening a bank account and balancing a checkbook and paying your bills through the mail or online.

      Each and every one of them should be monetarily compensated, then given a lawyer and a financial advisor to help them plan for their future.

      • Andie says:

        I think offering a no-strings-attached option of assistance from a financial advisor would be nice, but I wouldn’t force the issue. Like Esti said, if they want to spend it on candy and beer, let them. They’ve been through enough.

      • Rose says:

        Have you watched any of the various interviews with these brave men? They are eloquent, well-spoken, highly intelligent and shockingly lacking in bitterness given what was done to them.

        Yusef Salaam is college educated. All of them have been given an education in life in a way that most people with advanced degrees couldn’t begin to grasp.

        The race and class bias of these comments about their ability to handle money make my blood run cold. Why are these strong men who have survived so much being spoken of like they’re helpless children?

        Of course they should be compensated. Of course it should be with money and plenty of it. And it should go without saying that how they spend that money is nobody’s business but their own.

  11. Tim says:

    Most of us think that an admission of guilt is the most air-tight evidence aside from DNA. Who would ever admit to a crime they didn’t commit?

    There is actual research showing that it is not hard at all to get people to admit to things they didn’t do. One experiment is described here and I’m pretty sure there have been others. All it really took was just the experimenter acting accusatory and intimidating and people signed “confessions” almost immediately. Of course, the “crime” in the experiment wasn’t that serious, and some people would say that if it was something like rape or murder, that they would “hold out” no matter what. But multiply a few minutes of awkwardness and social discomfort into 24 hours of sleep deprivation (yes, it’s torture, and there is no excuse for any law enforcement or justice-system personnel not to know this), plus relentless questioning by multiple interrogators, and so on, and you can start to see how someone would confess to anything.

    • Anon21 says:

      The Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona has a bunch of excerpts from police manuals describing then-current tactics for forcing a suspect to confess without applying physical coercion. The theme is creating an atmosphere in which the interrogator has total control, and where the suspect’s denials are simply ignored and brushed aside. It’s actually pretty terrifying, and it’s not at all hard for me to imagine being worn down in such a situation even before you add the extreme stress of chronic sleep deprivation to the mix.

    • Jadey says:

      Basically the only thing less reliable than a non-spontaneous confession is eyewitness testimony.

  12. miga says:

    NPR had an interview with a member of the Central Park Five, and his experience after he was exonerated was horrible. For example: due to recidivism he suffered from addiction and was arrested because of it. At his sentencing they marked him as a REPEAT OFFENDER, despite his exoneration, and so gave him a harsher sentence. Eventually he got that sentence lessened, but the fact that they didn’t even give him time served at the very least is infuriating.

  13. Jadey says:

    I’m not actually sure whether this is the case in NYC or not, but if it isn’t it OUGHT to be: that the police/courts/correctional employees have a fiduciary responsibility for the people in their custody or whom they have detained, such that any harm which comes to them which could have been realistically prevented is the responsibility of the officials of the criminal justice system. In which case, FUCK INTENT – it happened in your care, you own it. The abuses which occur to people in custody, whatever their alleged or actual crimes, are a crime and an embarrassment. And incarceration is known (and has been known for *decades*) to put someone at enormous risk for downward spiral. NYC could never actually compensate these men for their loss, but they should damn well try.

    And whoever actually brutally raped and nearly killed that woman has never been caught, to my knowledge. That’s a fucking travesty as well.

    • Anon21 says:

      I believe Matias Reyes confessed to the crime, and DNA evidence confirmed that he was the perpetrator. He remains incarcerated for life on an unrelated conviction.

  14. Do we want a system where the agents of the government cause a wrongful conviction by doing things that they know are likely to produce false confessions, and then when the real rapist comes forward the government says, “woopsie, guy we got it wrong, but we have no responsibility to do anything to compensate the harm”?

    I just don’t think that is either wise or humane.

  15. pitbullgirl65 says:

    While no amount of money can bring back the years they’ve lost, they should be compensated, enough so they never have to worry about supporting themselves and whatever medical help they need, mental health too of course.

  16. Miss S says:

    Yes, they should be compensated. Also, we need a just justice system so that shit like this doesn’t keep happening. It’s disgusting.

    Also, legal question. If a confession is given after someone has been tortured (because yes, that is what sleep deprivation is, I’m an insomniac) can’t that be tossed out in court? Does the defendant get a chance to explain that confession in court, like “I signed that because I hadn’t slept for days and I had 5 men with police badges yelling at me for 7 hours to sign it.”

    And yes, as an insomniac, I would be willing to do damn near anything for sleep. My brain stops working if I go too long without sleep, and I get panic attacks that feel like I’m having some type of heart attack or stroke. It sucks.

    I feel awful for these men. This is going to impact their lives forever.

    • Anon21 says:

      Also, legal question. If a confession is given after someone has been tortured (because yes, that is what sleep deprivation is, I’m an insomniac) can’t that be tossed out in court? Does the defendant get a chance to explain that confession in court, like “I signed that because I hadn’t slept for days and I had 5 men with police badges yelling at me for 7 hours to sign it.”

      Short answer: yes, a confession that is involuntary is inadmissible for any purpose.

      Longer answer: the standard for involuntariness is very demanding, and the court in this case apparently decided that the amount of sleep deprivation inflicted on these defendants did not qualify. Physical harm or the threat of physical harm will generally tip a confession over to “involuntary,” but anything short of that is going to depend on the judge you appear before.

      • Miss S says:

        Thank you for the reply.

        If a confession doesn’t meet the standards for involuntary, can the defendants still explain or argue it in court? Or do they not go to court because of said confession?

        Also, (and this is the last legal question, I really should have gone to law school) can a person just walk out of the interrogation? Or do they have to stay?

      • Anon21 says:

        If a confession doesn’t meet the standards for involuntary, can the defendants still explain or argue it in court? Or do they not go to court because of said confession?

        They are certainly free to recant it and argue that it wasn’t a product of their free will during a trial. One tactic might be to point out inconsistencies between the confession and the physical evidence, or inconsistencies between the confessions of multiple alleged perpetrator.

        In practical terms, it’s very difficult to get out from under a confession, because most jurors aren’t aware that a trained interrogator can often get people to confess to horrible crimes that they didn’t commit.

        I don’t know if expert testimony is commonly offered or accepted for the purpose of showing the unreliability of confessions. I know that defendants occasionally offer expert testimony on the issue of (un)reliability of eyewitness identification, and I believe that courts are generally pretty hostile to such evidence, for the stated reason that it gets too much into collateral matters (a mini-trial of the reliability of the evidence, as it were).

        can a person just walk out of the interrogation? Or do they have to stay?

        Since the Central Park Five were almost certainly under arrest during the interrogation, they weren’t free to leave. (More generally, “free to leave” is exactly the dividing line between “arrest” and “voluntary interaction,” but when you’re held at the police station for hours, it’s virtually always going to be an arrest, whether formal or not.)

        Theoretically, they could end the questioning by invoking their right to have an attorney present or their right to remain silent but 1) cops are really good at creating an atmosphere in which talking to them seems like the best option in a terrifying situation, and 2) they’re also usually pretty good at waiting and re-initiating interrogation after a break when the suspect invokes his right to remain silent. (Blowing past a clear invocation of the right to counsel is a riskier enterprise; generally the police need a two-week break in custody or the suspect has to initiate a conversation of his own accord.)

      • the court in this case apparently decided that the amount of sleep deprivation inflicted on these defendants did not qualify.

        *rages*

        (not at you, Anon)

        *rages more*

      • Miss S says:

        Anon21, thank you for answering these questions.

        I know firsthand how people can be intimidated by authority figures. I was accused of some type of credit card fraud at a restaurant when I was much younger. Two male managers called me into the office and started hurling accusations at me. They raised their voices, rolled their eyes, glared at me, and told me if I didn’t confess they were calling the police. At one point, the manager picks up the phone and calls someone and starts discussing the “evidence” against me.

        I eventually ended up signing something (so stupid, but I was young, and terrified at the thought of going to jail). I should have just walked out, but they kept saying that if I didn’t sign, the police were coming.

        Fast forward 2 years, I walk into a nearby restaurant to apply, and my former manager is there. One of the ones who accused me of fraud. He offered me a job on the spot as a way of “making things right” because he felt “guilty” for the previous incident in which they really didn’t have “evidence” and he only went along with it because he didn’t want to lose his job. The other manager? Fired for embezzlement.

        Sorry for the long story. Just wanted to share. It’s harder to stand up for yourself against people in authority positions- bosses, police, etc. I’m fairly strong willed, and knew I was innocent, but was literally cornered into a locked office with two male bosses.

  17. Miss S says:

    Is there a not racist country I can migrate to?

  18. gratuitous says:

    There are many, many good comments here, and a lot to chew over and think about.

    One point I’d like to bring up is the sensational nature of some crimes, and public pressure to get the bad guys. I’m decidedly NOT excusing police or prosecutorial misconduct, but it takes some special people in those offices when the public is howling for an arrest, a conviction and a hanging to stand in front of the cameras and say, “This is a difficult case, and we want to be 100% sure we convict the right person.” How many of us will accept that answer when there’s a sympathetic crime victim in the ICU or the morgue? How many of us will counsel our friends and neighbors to be patient and let the investigation proceed without the histrionics?

    • EG says:

      No. If your job by nature involves a lot of pressure, you need to be able to do your job right while you’re under that pressure. This wasn’t a case of somebody slipping up and searching without a warrant. This is a case of torturing kids.

      • gratuitous says:

        Yes, it IS a case of torturing kids. But my point is that the mistreatment of the accused didn’t happen in a vacuum. Part of the antecedent for their torture is public and media pressure on police and prosecutors to arrest someone (anyone!) and get the case “solved.”

        I’ll let the popular media in for its share in this as well (screaming headlines and wall-to-wall coverage have a profound effect on driving public opinion), but the public buys into apprehending the bad guys scenario. We as a society would be far better served by a healthier respect for due process and a little less willingness to be stampeded into a false closure to satisfy our blood lust.

        But down that road lies madness only hinted at by the writings of H.P. Lovecraft should the principle be applied across the board to other areas of our culture and society.

      • Yes. Those horrible people, wanting people to do their job that their taxes are paying them to do. How dare they.

        I agree with you on the fact that the media is helping warp the way the public views the need for closure, but I think if you look up any source more detailed than Wikipedia on the history of police it’ll become incredibly obvious that the pattern of the ages has been the police torturing first, torturing later and maybe asking questions if they feel like it. It’s just that that’s now considered too naughty a thing to do, unless it’s to marginalised populations.

      • Argh, posted too soon.

        So before you blame the public and the media for putting pressure on the poor cops, oh noes, you might want to consider that the bulk of history lies on the side of that same media and public, who decided that the repressive, authoritarian actions of the police were too barbarous – that’s right , I used the B word – for the 20th century and that their powers should be curbed and defined. At least, that’s been the pattern in most of the countries I’ve read about.

      • miga says:

        And to add to this messy little vacuum outside/media pressure always seems to come on when the victim meets certain criteria. Specifically those of race and class.

    • igglanova says:

      Ok, can we give gratuitous a break here? All s/he’s saying is that the police are not the only people culpable in the phenomenon of false imprisonment, and that the environment outside the police force exerts pressures on the officers, particularly in high-profile cases. There is nothing here about ‘poor cops.’

      • Bagelsan says:

        Agreed. In fact macavitykitsune sounds like she basically agrees, too, apparent disagreeing tone aside…

      • Yeah, I wasn’t disagreeing with gratuitous’ point at all! Just saying that historically, cops have proven to be, ah, less than industrious about suspects’ rights, so blaming it even mostly on the media and the public is a bit disingenuous. I agree with the blame, just not how much they’ve assigned.

      • igglanova says:

        *False conviction, that should read.

    • Miss S says:

      I see what you’re saying, and to add: don’t police and DA’s have political/personal/career motivations to land a conviction? In addition to the pressure, or maybe because of it?

      • Miss S says:

        Or to be clear: aren’t the motivations of police and DA’s sometimes for their own benefit, rather than to simply appease the public? In a “I want to get re-elected, keep my job” sort of way?

        So the goal isn’t always justice, but the appearance of it.

  19. Tony says:

    Oh boy, the Guardian has a comments section! I wonder what the first comment’s going to be in response to this fact filled and well argued article?

    Oh yes. Of course.

    “the biggest mystery in this crime was why this woman was jogging in Central Park late at night”

    Apparently this was a mistake because the city was controlled by Democrats (unlike now), and you shouldn’t go jogging if your city is controlled by Democrats.

    NOW that rape has been eliminated in NYC, it’s safe to go jogging in Central Park late at night!..heck I do it all the time!.., but WHAT WAS SHE THINKING?

    That’s the biggest mystery here. Why isn’t the NYPD investigating this mystery???

  20. Tony says:

    On topic- of course they should be compensated. The courts have been cracking down on this sort of thing for decades- I was reading about Thurgood Marshall yesterday, and the first big case he won before the Supreme Court, Chambers v. Florida (1940), declared that voluntary confessions could be ruled inadmissable in court if there was evidence that they were coerced through other methods. In that case, the police were under heavy pressure to reach a conviction in a robbery-murder, they rounded up 40 transients and kept them detained around the clock for a week until five of them confessed. And that was before Miranda, Gideon, etc.

  21. tmc says:

    If I remember correctly, everything I write started getting caught in the mod filter in a thread in which I was unapologetically angry about the silencing of black women that happens in this space. I’m apparently still on permanent moderation. It was fucked then and it’s fucked now.

    I can’t help but wonder if any of the “polite” racists here who don’t hesitate to go on and on about how inferior the people of my race are to whites are also on perma-mod, or if that’s an honor reserved for uppity niggers like me.

    File this one under Things That Make You Go “Hmmmm….”

    • tmc says:

      And weirdly enough, this is the first thing I’ve written in the past couple days that has NOT gotten caught in the mod filter. So does it just hate me?

      • Jill says:

        And weirdly enough, this is the first thing I’ve written in the past couple days that has NOT gotten caught in the mod filter. So does it just hate me?

        It just hates you :-(

        I’m sorry, I looked at our mod filters and you definitely are not on moderation (and we would have told you if you were). Don’t know what is tripping it up. Thank you for being so patient, and I apologize — I know it’s annoying.

      • tmc says:

        Thanks very much, Jill. I appreciate you looking into it!

  22. David says:

    This is very much like the Duke case because the accused were convicted in the press. Look back and you will see that the magazines and TV shows convicted them. So why does the media forget about fairness when rape is involved? Why is the media so hyper sensitive to rape when the accused is a man? Who are the pressure groups yelling for convictions?
    These young men were raped too. They were raped by a society that is anti-men and anti-black men in particular.

    • Jill says:

      Oh barf. David, no. These men were not raped (at least not that we know of). They were not “raped by society.” Rape is a real thing — an actual crime done to an actual body. It’s not your personal fucking metaphor. Kindly fuck off.

      • David says:

        Yes, you’re right; I should not have used that word. What about the rest of my comment? I’m interested in seeing if you can discredit it as easily.

      • Jadey says:

        You cannot dismiss the role of racism in either case, as you are attempting to do.

    • Bagelsan says:

      And I’ll bet you got “raped” by hard tests in school, too. And “raped” by not getting to use your mom’s car. And “raped” by having to avoid calling women bitches to their faces…

      Jeezus. What a “rape” epidemic there is against David!

      • David says:

        I apologize for using that word.
        I like your style so please tell me what you think of the rest of my comment. It appears that the media hates men but not women.
        How did you know about mom’s car?

      • Jill says:

        Aaaaand with another “the media hates men but not women,” David’s stupid ass is banned. I just don’t have time for that kind of idiocy.

    • Jill says:

      This is actually not like the Duke case at all, except in the sense that you had over-zealous prosecutors and shoddy police investigation. Was media outrage an influence in making police and prosecutors cut corners? Yes. But we entrust our civil servants to behave with restraint.

      The media is not “hyper-sensitive about rape” in particular when the accused is a man (statistically, rapists are almost always men). There are certain narratives that catch on in the media when it comes to rape cases, and more often than not, it’s the rape victim who’s pilloried. The Central Park Jogger is actually the last rape victim I can think of who wasn’t roundly attacked and insulted in the media.

      So please, come off it. If our society is “anti-men,” please explain how the majority of people in powerful positions in the media, politics, business, and law are all men.

  23. Cilla says:

    Oddly enough, everything you’re saying right now can likewise be used as an excuse for women of color to give mainstream feminism the side-eye. Funny how that works.

    Yes. Yes. Yes some more. =/

  24. Lamech says:

    1) Of course they should be compensated. A wrongful conviction is either
    a) The fault of the state being for either being negligent or outright malicious. In which case they should be compensated. or
    b) An unavoidable cost of the state doing what it needs to do. Like taking someone’s house to build a road or paying the police. These costs should be paid for by a large base of tax payers. In other words, these people should be compensated.

    2) BTW if your on a jury, do NOT, I repeat DO NOT, trust anyone who lies as part of their job and is perfectly okay with it. Especially about anything important like evidence in a criminal investigation. They are NOT trustworthy. The upshot of this is those police officers who lie in interrogations are not trustworthy. They lie. They admit to lying. They try to deceive people, please do not trust them when they say they aren’t deceiving the jury.

  25. xzaebos says:

    Humanity. It’s a tricky subject.

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