All photos courtesy of the Central Park Conservancy
A new gate in Central Park will permanently honor the “Central Park Five,” the five Black and Latino teens who in 1989 were convicted of a crime they didn’t commit. “The Gate of the Exonerated” commemorates the exoneration of all five men, each of whom unjustly served between six and 12 years in prison before being cleared in 2002. Located on 110th Street between Malcolm X Boulevard and Fifth Avenue, the new entrance was unveiled on Monday, exactly 20 years after their convictions were overturned, marking the first named gate in Central Park since 1862.
The new entrance comes as part of a partnership with the city, NYC Parks, Manhattan Community Board 10, and the Central Park Conservancy.
“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,” Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement. “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.”
Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise, and Yusef Salaam, the five men who came to be known by the nation as the “Central Park Five” and later as the “Exonerated Five,” were wrongfully convicted of the rape and assault of a white female jogger one night in 1989.
The boys were exonerated on December 19, 2002, after Matias Reyes, a serial rapist and murderer, confessed to the crime and said he acted alone. DNA analysis had determined that he was the perpetrator of the crime and that the hair evidence used in the boy’s trial did not match. It was later shown that the boys, who during interrogation admitted to the crime, were coerced by officers.
After being cleared, the men received $41 million in a 2014 settlement with the city, and their case later became the subject of a documentary, mini-series, and even an opera.
This experience shed light on the rampant inequalities present in the country’s justice system and brought attention to the plight of thousands of other Black and Latino men who have been unjustly convicted of crimes. The gate seeks to recognize the perseverance of these individuals, some who have been given the justice they deserve and some who still sit in prison.
Three of the Five, Richardson, Salaam, and Santana, were present at the gate’s unveiling on Monday and spoke about its significance.
“The commemoration of this entrance is bittersweet. 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,” Dr. Yusef Salaam, said.
“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,” Raymond Santana said.
“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. 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.”
Manhattan Community Board 10 and New Yorkers sought to commemorate the Exonerated Five as well as honor all individuals who have been wrongfully convicted. After years of work with the local community, the project was approved by the city’s Public Design Commission this month.
Naming an entrance after the exonerated men keeps with the vision of Central Park designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who named the park’s original entryways to reflect the people of New York City, like scholars, artists, women, mariners, and others.
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