FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Reign of Terror on People of Color

by KIM NICOLINI

I saw my first film of the new year last night – The Central Park Five, a documentary about the five black and Latino boys who were falsely accused, bullied into confessing, and then served time for the rape and beating of the Central Park Jogger back in 1989. After serving 6-13 years in prison, the boys were exonerated of the crimes when the true rapist confessed and his DNA matched that found on the crime scene.

Certainly this film is a devastating story of racial injustice and the failure of the American criminal system. The film was made by famed PBS documentary filmmaker Ken Burns based on a book by his daughter Sarah Burns, and it largely focuses on the stories of the surviving boys (who are now men), their families, and archival footage.

The police, lawyers, and District Attorney involved in the case refused to participate. They are included in the documentary via archival footage, including the videotaped confessions which were extorted from the boys, four of whom were fourteen years old at the time of the crime and one who was sixteen.

During their 30 hours plus of interrogation, they had no legal representation, no child advocates, no social services presence, and no contact with their parents and family. They eventually confessed, being fed the details by the cops, simply to “make it stop.” Their confessions were inconsistent, full of errors and mistakes. None of the boys’ DNA was found at the crime scene; likewise, none of the DNA of the victim was found on the boys, though the crime was brutal and bloody. The boys were convicted on the sole evidence of the false confessions that were forced out of them by the brutal interrogation of the Central Park Precinct detectives.

Certainly this is a tragic tale of race in this country. It is particularly resonant after recently seeing Django Unchained. (I’ll be publishing my essay on that film next week). What is most interesting to me is how this incident was used by the media and governing forces as a catalyst event to propagate and reignite racial fear in this country. The terminology used to reference the boys by the so-called liberal media was as dehumanizing as that of the Jim Crow south. The boys were referred to as a “wild pack” who were “wilding” and terrorizing white people. They were spoken and written about as if they were wild animals, something less than human.

I remember the incident well. I was a woman jogger at the time, and I recall how this single incident framed a new Environment of Fear which was based on the threat of the black man against the white woman. It is the same fear that was propagated during Reconstruction (post Civil War America), when it was within the economic interest of white power to keep black men demonized.

It must be noted, that the Central Park Five event occurred in the wake of the ongoing fallout from the economic recession following Reaganomics. During hard economic times, the country likes to find a scapegoat for the economic chaos and despair that permeates the environment. In the case of the Central Park Five, the media, police and government forces created Wilding and the fear of Blacks in Packs. Also, it must be noted that censorship of black music was instituted at this time.

Certainly demonizing “the racial other” is nothing new in this country, but I see the Central Park Five incident as a kind of historical pivotal moment in the Post Civil Rights Era when American governing forces began re-escalating its reign of terror on people of color, immigrants and the disenfranchised (see the institution of the Patriot Act and Homeland Security for evidence). We have to remember that this country and its economic base were largely founded on racial demonization and dehumanization. Slavery was the economic backbone of early America. When the slaves were freed, many of them ended up packed away in housing projects such as those that tower the streets of Harlem.  When housing projects didn’t work to contain America’s Big Ugly History, prisons were expanded and race was largely criminalized. This trend has not stopped to this day and certainly played a role in the Central Park Five.

To me, the most tragic part of the film is that when the boys are finally exonerated of their crimes, they greet this news with a kind of quiet and devastating resignation and acceptance. Certainly they are happy to no longer have to be “registered sex offenders” for the crimes they never committed, but there is also a sense that they feel that “this is just how things are in this country.” And the sad truth is that this is how things are in this country.

One boy who is now a man says with tears in his eyes (I paraphrase), “I will never get those years of my life back. No prom. No high school. They have been taken from me, and I will always have this hole or gap in my life where those years were stolen.” Yet, he also seems to accept it as a fact of life in America, a country that was founded on “stolen lives,” the legacy of which still largely lives and breathes up in Harlem where these boys lived.

It is a sobering and sad film. It is also critical to revisit this case to remember what it stood for as emblematic of the paradigm shift that occurred during the Reagan years and continued as we moved into the era of ultra conservatism that continues to dominate our political landscape today. We have not come a long way, baby. Not by a long shot.

Kim Nicolini is an artist, poet and cultural critic living in Tucson, Arizona. Her writing has appeared in Bad Subjects, Punk Planet, Souciant, La Furia Umana, and The Berkeley Poetry Review. She recently published her first book, Mapping the Inside Out, in conjunction with a solo gallery show by the same name. She can be reached at knicolini@gmail.com.

 

 

Kim Nicolini is an artist, poet and cultural critic living in Tucson, Arizona. Her writing has appeared in Bad Subjects, Punk Planet, Souciant, La Furia Umana, and The Berkeley Poetry Review. She recently completed a book of her artwork on Dead Rock Stars which will was featured in a solo show at Beyond Baroque in Venice, CA. She is also completing a book of herDirt Yards at Night photography project. Her first art book Mapping the Inside Out is available upon request. She can be reached at knicolini@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Clobbers Ocean Life
Patrick Cockburn
The Terrifying Parallels Between Trump and Erdogan
Kenneth Surin
The Neoliberal Stranglehold on the American Public University
Lawrence Davidson
Is There a Future for the Democratic Party?
Robert Fisk
The Foreign Correspondent in the Age of Twitter and Trump
Dale Bryan
“Where Do We Go from Here?”
David Swanson
The Deep State Wants to Deep Six Us
Dan Bacher
Obama Administration Orders Speedy Completion of Delta Tunnels Plan
Mark Weisbrot
Obama Should Make Sure that Haitian Victims of UN-Caused Cholera are Compensated
Winslow Myers
The Light of the World
Bruce Mastron
My Latest Reason to Boycott the NFL: Guns
Weekend Edition
January 13, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Gregory Elich
Did the Russians Really Hack the DNC?
Jeffrey St. Clair
The President Who Wasn’t There: Barack Obama’s Legacy of Impotence
Anthony DiMaggio
Ethics Fiasco: Trump, Divestment and the Perversion of Executive Politics
Joshua Frank
Farewell Obummer, Hello Golden Showers
Paul Street
Hit the Road, Barack: Some Farewell Reflections
Vijay Prashad
After Aleppo: the State of Syria
John Wight
Russia Must be Destroyed: John McCain and the Case of the Dodgy Dossier
Rob Urie
Meet the Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
The Russian Dossier Reminds Me of the Row Over Saddam’s WMDs
Eric Sommer
U.S.-China War: a Danger Hidden from the American People
Andrew Levine
Are Democrats Still the Lesser Evil?
Linda Pentz Gunter
What’s Really Behind the Indian Point Nuclear Deal?
Robert Fantina
Trucks, ‘Terror’ and Israel
Richard Moser
Universal Values are Revolutionary Values
Russell Mokhiber
Build the Bagdikian Wall: “Sponsored News” at the Washington Post
Yoav Litvin
Establishment Narcissism – The Democrats’ Game of Thrones
David Rosen
Return of the Repressed: Trump & the Revival of the Culture Wars
Robert Koehler
War Consciousness and the F-35
Rev. William Alberts
The New Smell of McCarthyism Demands Faith Leaders Speak Truth to Power
John Laforge
Federal Regulator Halts Move to Toughen Radiation Exposure Limits
Norman Pollack
Farewell Address: Nazification of Hope
David Swanson
Imagine the Confirmation Hearing for Secretary of Peace
CJ Hopkins
Why Ridiculous Official Propaganda Still Works
Ron Jacobs
Striking in Reagan Time
Missy Comley Beattie
The Streep
Graham Peebles
Climate Change: The Potential Impacts of Collective Inaction
Uri Avnery
Confessions of a Megalomaniac
Kenneth Worles
Black Without a Home: King’s Dream Still Deferred
Geoff Dutton
The Russian Patsy
Jill Richardson
The Coming War on Regulations
Jeremy Brecher
Resisting the Trump Agenda is Social Self-Defense
Peter Lee
Is Obama Behind the Hit on Trump?
Christopher Brauchli
Why Did Congress Do It? Because They Can
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail