New York Mayor Ed Koch called it the "crime of the century." Millions of women called it the reason not to go into the park at night, ever again. And to this day, it remains one of the biggest media stories of our time.
Meili nearly died in the rape, but within hours, she wouldn’t be the only victim of the crime. Shortly after she was raped, five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem were arrested and later convicted. The five each spent between 6 and 13 years in prison, before a shocking confession from a serial rapist and DNA evidence proved their innocence.
The new film, “The Central Park Five” tells the story of how the police, the media and the justice system upended five lives.
Ken Burns wrote, produced and directed the film, along with his daughter, Sarah Burns, and son-in-law, David McMahon. It opens in limited release this Friday.
"Rarely have we taken something that has such a journalistic and contemporary feel," Burns says of the film, which focuses on recent events. "We were all aware of this when it took place. It seemed to be the final cherry on the top of the death of our cities and our society, and we wrung our hands and accepted as whole cloth the story that the police and the prosecutors had handed out… Which turned out to be wrong."
Part of what is extraordinary about Burns' documentary is how strikingly different New York City looked, just over 20 years ago. "I think we forget how it was," Burns says of New York in the 1980s. "As you turned a corner of any particular block, everyone did a calculus about which side of the street you were going to proceed on, whether this was a safe block, whether you might turn around. Burns thinks that, though this crime resulted in a tragic denial of justice, it also marked the moment when the culture of crime in New York was turned around.
Because this was the "crime of the century," the police and the media and the court system was a machine that could not be stopped. "The momentum was too great to admit that we might have made a mistake."