Looking Back at the Central Park Five

The "wilding" panic of '89.


Scott McConnell, who was working for the New York Post when the infamous Central Park Five story hit the headlines in 1989, casts a regretful eye back on the case:

In retrospect, it's amazing that people believed "wilding" was real "street slang."

Months before the critical Democratic primary, the woman in Central Park was raped. The sheer horror of the crime was eased slightly by the rapid arrest of suspects. Boy, the NYPD was good. There had been, on that warm spring evening, a night of wilding: some 30 youths had descended on the park from Harlem, committing mayhem on the late night reservoir joggers. Some were robbed and beaten, but except for "the jogger" they escaped serious harm.

What few people in the city knew was that the case against the Central Park Five was contrived. The cops got the kids, five of the perhaps eight they had picked up that evening. But they knew they had, in addition to the other robbery and mayhem victims, a woman hovering near death. They needed suspects, confessions. The city needed closure.

Confused legislator immediately introduces bill to ban the Cub Scouts.

The five were young, between 15 and 17, easily confused. The cops separated the five and coaxed individual confessions—each of them, exhausted, gave up a part of the story. Their alibi, had they thought to use it, was that they were in another part of the park half a mile away, assaulting other people. But none of the five thought to use it. In the city, in the journalistic community, and certainly at the Post, no one thought much of the fact that there was no matching DNA evidence with the rape victim. Who knew about such things? They had the confessions, didn't they? Moreover, the only people in the city claiming the kids were innocent were the black press and activists who had already discredited themselves by making false charges, and their slogan--"The Boyfriend Did It"--was hardly likely to appeal to fair-minded people who might have questioned the discrepancies in the prosecutions case.

Soon after the confessions, the boys recanted. But no one believed them. Several months later, a violent serial rapist was arrested. Years later, in prison, he owned up to the jogger assault….

When I saw first photos of the suspects, it struck me they didn't have that blank dead-eyed look that one had learned to associate with teenage murderers. They looked instead kind of normal, as if they could have been classmates in my kids' (private) school. They had parents vouching for them. But we all, at the conservative Post and elsewhere (including even liberal tribunes like the famous Pete Hamill) believed the cops.

Read the whole thing here.

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  1. Shut down all the milk bars. That's where the hooligans hang out before heading out for a bit of the ultra-violence.

    1. True. Before milk hit the streets, you never heard about stuff like this happening.

      1. I can't tell if you guys are serious, so I'm going to make a comment that is meant to convey my superior critical thinking but in actuality makes me out to be a moron. You should look up the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

        1. Do you see any tigers around?

          Didn't think so.

          *strokes anti-tiger ring*

    2. No, no, just ban them getting "knives" in it, as they like to say.

    3. Where are me droogs supposed to meet? Why don't ye just chain me in the glazzies?

  2. This is probably the most seductive and dangerous form of railroading. The police catch a habitual law-breaker in the vicinity of a crime and we all assume he must have done it because he's a bad guy. Put another way, "He must be guilty of something."

    McConnel even reinforces the prejudice in his mea culpa talking about how the boys looked "normal" In retrospect. As though since they weren't the rapists after all, they must therefore be all around good people. (It's the contrapositive of the assumption that got the boys framed in the first place). As a species, we seem to have a really difficult time distinguishing between a person's overall moral worth and their culpability in a specific circumstance.

    The same thing happened to Carlos Luna. The guy was an all around creep, but that shouldn't, on its own, be enough to convict him of a crime that never actually took place.

  3. There's no obvious moral here. The New York cops, I continue to believe, are as good a major-city police force as exists in the contemporary world. Still they made a terrible mistake.

    I don't doubt that the NYPD is on par with the LAPD and Chicago Police Department in professionalism and ethics.

    1. Hey, what about Seattle PD?!?

      1. Dunphy keeps them running above all that nonsense.

      2. Seattle PD

        Something something most professional force in the country something something.

        1. It's their state constitution, I hear. That's why you have to respect the brave heroes in blue. Unless you want a mouthful very professionally broken teeth.

          1. Keeping hipsters safe from whittlers since 2006.

      3. Major-city. Seattle isn't even Major Dad.

  4. They looked instead kind of normal, as if they could have been classmates in my kids' (private) school. They had parents vouching for them.

    Yeah, and...? Two of the guys involved in the recent unpleasantness in Boston could say the same.

  5. The mob gets what the mob demands.

  6. It's a little interesting how this guy is basically letting the media off the hook for their part in sensationalizing the story in the first place. Yeah the cops got false confessions, but the media never investigated, never questioned it until years later. Even though that is the ESSENCE of their job.

    This is what makes me so furious about the Hakkens case, they just enjoyed sensationalizing the story and playing it for ratings and didn't spend a minute to question the police version of the story.
    And these are the VERY PEOPLE who portray themselves as champions of the poor and the weak and the underdog. We get five part series's on the homeless or on healthcare reform, and meanwhile they can't stop to question whether an innocent teenager is being railroaded or not.

    And then one of these same assholes writes an op-ed talking about how awesome government is and we should all sacrifice liberty for more security and assume that the government knows what's best for us, no matter how retarded/awful/oppressive is appears to be.

  7. Tawana Told Da Trut

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