The Central Park Five ~ now known as The Exonerated Five ~ have worked tirelessly toward criminal justice reform since their release. Now, a permanent exhibit will be installed in the northeast part of the park in their honor, near where the teens entered on that fateful night in April, 1989. The installation will highlight a fight for justice.
Cicely Harris, chair of Community Board 10, which covers the park, said the commemoration will cover much more than the jogger case.
“It was sparked by the Exonerated Five but it is to answer for all of the wrongfully incarcerated, wrongfully accused and then wrongfully executed people of color, or anyone that is in that situation, especially in low-income communities where they have not been heard,” Harris said.
The five teens, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson and Korey Wise, were picked up and charged in the attack and assaults on other people in the park that night. The quintet said they were coerced into give false confessions. Four of them were on tape. They served between 6½ and 13 years in prison for the crimes. Then, in 2002, convicted rapist and killer Matias Reyes stepped forward with a stunning claim: he alone raped the jogger, though doctors had said her physical injuries pointed to more than one attacker.
In 2014, the city settled a wrongful conviction lawsuit, paying the five $41 million but denying any wrongdoing by the NYPD or prosecutors.
After a series of thoughtful discussions that have been ongoing for several years, it was decided that a Gate to the entrance to Central Park North would be named in their honor. The Gate of the Exonerated will be unveiled on December 19, 2022 on 110th Street near Malcolm X Boulevard, just a short distance from where the young men lived, and the place where they entered the Park that fateful night. It is in the shadow of the Duke Ellington Circle and The Africa Center.
Gathering on a frigid day in December, 2022, (press release) New York City Mayor Eric Adams, Manhattan Community Board 10, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (NYC Parks), the Central Park Conservancy, and the Harlem community today unveiled the “Gate of the Exonerated,” inspired by the acquittal of the Exonerated Five from the 1989 case, where five young men were wrongly convicted of a crime and unjustly served prison sentences from six to 12 years. Exactly 20 years ago today, on December 19, 2002, the convictions of Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise, and Yusef Salaam were vacated. The newly named gate — Central Park’s first named gate since 1862 — honors all who have been wrongfully convicted and recognizes the ongoing struggle and fight to ensure justice for all. Located on Central Park North between Malcolm X Boulevard and Fifth Avenue, the gate keeps with the park’s tradition of the naming of original entrances in honor of the people of New York City.
The Gate of the Exonerated is a product of more than two years of extensive, in-depth dialogue among the Harlem community and a response to their desire for healing and belonging in the aftermath of the case of the Exonerated Five and its impact on Black and Latino New Yorkers. The experience of the Exonerated Five and their families reflects a historical pattern of unjust arrests and wrongful convictions of Black and Latino young people in the United States. The Gate of the Exonerated aims to shed light on wrongful incarcerations that are a product of inequities inherent in the justice system, and ultimately to honor all those affected.
“The Gate of the Exonerated symbolizes the resiliency of the Exonerated Five and all those who have been wrongfully convicted and serves as a lasting reminder of the grave miscarriage of justice that took place more than three decades ago,” said Mayor Adams. “Today marks a moment of truth and reconciliation for New York City, and it’s only fitting that the most iconic park in the world tell the world this important story. I thank the Harlem community leaders and Manhattan Community Board 10, whose advocacy made this naming, the first in Central Park’s history since 1862, a reality.”
“The commemoration of this entrance is bittersweet,” said Dr. Yusef Salaam. “Many lives have been impacted by wrongful convictions across the nation and right here in our community. But when God restores, 100 times more than what was taken is what is given. And 20 years to the day since our convictions were vacated, I can proudly say this Gate of the Exonerated serves as a reminder of the love and support we have received. For that, I am truly thankful and honored — and recommitted to righting the wrongs of our criminal system of injustice to ensure our youth never face what we did.”
“I never reentered Central Park because of what happened to me and my fellow members of the Exonerated Five. Even when my daughter was born, there were moments I wanted to take her because of the beautiful playgrounds for the children, but I couldn’t bring myself to enter,” said Raymond Santana. “Now that my daughter is an adult, it’s time for us to go to Central Park, see the Gate of the Exonerated, and once again be a part of the park community.”
“The Gate of the Exonerated speaks to the idea of the exoneration of people across the country and sheds a bright light on all of those wrongfully accused and incarcerated,” said Sharonne Salaam, mother of Dr. Yusef Salaam; member, Justice4TheWrongfullyIncarcerated. “Central Park was in our backyard, it was right across the street. By naming a gate in Central Park for this community of New Yorkers, we are taking one positive step forward towards healing.”
In 1862, the Board of Commissioners charged with overseeing the construction of Central Park adopted a plan for the naming of the park’s entrances, which was inspired by the democratic vision of the park as belonging to all New Yorkers. The names they established for the 20 original park entrances were intended “to be representative of the whole people…extend to each citizen a respectful welcome” and recognize the occupations, pursuits, and attributes of all New Yorkers and all those who would visit the park.
While you’re there, step into the Dana Discovery Center and view ‘The Story of Central Park’s Gates’ ~ an exhibition in conjunction with the dedication of the Gate of the Exonerated.
Also on that day (December 19th), save the date and register for a spot for “The Road to Exoneration: A Discussion with the Exonerated Five on the 20th Anniversary of their exoneration ~ a conversation with the Exonerated Five will take place at The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on Monday, December 19, 2022 from 6:30 to 8:30pm. This is a Free Event with Registration.
As a side-note to this, Korey Wise, one of the Exonerated Five, owns an apartment overlooking Central Park North and this Gate.
Read about The Gate of The Exonerated Here.
Read about the redesign for Central Park North Here.