New York City in 1989 was as dangerous as it ever was, and when a young white woman was attacked, raped and beaten in Central Park one night, it seemed like just another blight on an awful period in the city’s history (Believe me, there was a reason kids like me came into Manhattan by train and never, ever, took the subway by ourselves back then).
The public was outraged, and five teenagers, all non-white, were all quickly arrested for the crime, then convicted without much trouble at all.
Except, as Ken Burns and his daughter Sarah show in a fantastic documentary I just saw on PBS, “The Central Park Five” the kids were innocent. They were badgered to confess under intense questioning by police, and despite there being a ton of holes in the case (the DNA evidence at the scene matched none of the boys, their stories about how the crime happened varied wildly), the NYPD and city prosecutors forged ahead.
Finally, a decade after the verdicts and after seven years in prison for each kid, the real rapist is found, and the boys’ verdict is overturned.
The fascinating film introduces us to Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Kharey Wise, and Raymond Santana, and the way they tell the story is harrowing. We also hear from journalists and activists from that time period, who still can’t believe how the boys were steamrolled into suffering so much for a crime they didn’t commit thanks to the culture of NYC at the time, and a wildly overzealous police force and prosecutor.
I highly, highly recommend this film; it’s as good as anything Ken Burns has done.
It’s not scheduled to be on PBS again in the new few weeks, but here’s a link to watch the whole movie online.
**I usually try to highlight fun or interesting new commercials on here, but this new Hyundai ad was so bizarre I wanted to see what you all thought of it. It’s called “Suicide,” and, well, I’m not exactly sure it makes me wanna go buy a Hyundai…
**I’m not 100 percent certain why, but I remember exactly where I was when I found out the best tennis player in the world was stabbed in the back on the court, during a match.
I was a senior at Commack High School on Long Island, and I had just gotten into my car after school and was ready to drive home. I flipped on WFAN and heard the radio voice talking in very hushed, freaked-out tones, saying that reports were sketchy, but that a fan had rushed the court at a tennis match in Germany, and stabbed Monica Seles in the back.
It was inconceivable to my 17-year-old mind then; 20 years later, it’s still pretty inconceivable. A superstar in the prime of her career, who had already won eight Grand Slam titles and displaced the great Steffi Graf at No.1, was attacked in broad daylight on a tennis court during a match.
If you don’t remember the details, the assault was staged by Gunter Parche, a German lunatic who was obsessed with Graf and wanted her to get back on top, thus he decided to attack her biggest rival. Parche, unbelievably, was found at two different trials to be legally insane and never spent a day in prison.
Seles took a two-year absence from tennis and, while she came back to the Top 10 and still had a strong career, was never the same again.
What bothers me about the Seles incident to this day is not that a crazy person did something like this; it’s that for all the post 9/11 security that we have in place, it could easily happen again. In recent years both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were confronted on the court, mere inches away from them, by fans who stumbled out on the court.
Very easily and very quickly, both could’ve been injured or killed.
It’s always been a dangerous world, but until Seles was attacked in 1993, athletes on the playing field believed they were at least safe between the white line.
Bruce Jenkins of SI.com has a great column abut the Seles anniversary here.