Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

Lessons from the Central Park 5

Raymond Santana talks Wrongful Convictions

The Central Park Case has been on my mind, ESPECIALLY AFTER I BECAME ENRAGED WATCHING THE “TRIAL 4” SERIES ON NETFLIX. I WAS IN A PANIC AS AN AFRICAN AMERICAN FATHER OVER WHAT should never happen, but do occur within the Criminal Justice System. (Trial 4 is about a Boston man, Sean Ellis, 19 at the time, facing his 4th trial for murdering a police officer, fighting to prove his innocence and expose the corruption. He spent 20 years in Prison for a crime where ultimately prosecutors dismissed charges.)

Central Park Rape Victim Trisha Meili

Many of the things that Raymond Santana said to me in this interview, are quite relevant today. False Confessions do happen.

“The thing that we want people to know is that false confessions happen all the time. And if you don’t want to take our case, as an example, go to the Innocence Project. There are over three exonerations on it. This stuff happens all the time all across the country. And once we start to realize that is real, then we can start to affect change.”-Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

This is about the remarkable story of the Central Park 5, and how they were convicted as teenagers of raping an Investment Banker in New York’s famed Central Park. Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise, and Raymond Santana. For months, the front-page headlines said the 5 had engaged in “wilding,” and called them:

“Wolf Pack.”

“Urban Terrorists.”

“Super Predators.”

“Super Predators” was the favorite term for pandering politicians. As a result, a majority of states toughened Juvenile Laws to deal with these new “baby face” criminals that were committing crimes throughout America like they were on steroids'. To say this was racially-charged at the time would be the understatement of the year.

These teenagers were convicted in the Court of public opinion from Day One.

The five spent between 6 and 13 years behind bars, for a crime they did not commit. One of the 5, Raymond Santana, shares his painful story….right here…which your about to read.

“The Donald Trump’s… the Ann Coulter’s… you know, the bloggers who still say that we guilty or we’re guilty of something, you know, because they just can’t let it go!!!They just can’t let it go that we were innocent, and that we didn’t commit this crime at the end of the day. Reyes has told you on more than one occasion that it was him and him alone, the DNA match. What more do you need?” Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

It bears repeating the overall backdrop and highly polarized environment of this case in New York City. The City had become a powder keg along racial lines back then….and was about to blow.

In 1989, a young woman, a young white woman was jogging through New York’s Central Park, and she was found and had been viciously beaten and raped. It was unclear if she would even survive and remained in a coma that lasted 12 days. More than a decade later, DNA evidence exonerated the five Harlem teens. This interview I did with Raymond Santana was in 2014, before Donald Trump was elected president, But this interview is as relevant today as it was then.

We met at Melba’s Restaurant, a popular restaurant in Harlem. I selected this location for a specific reason. Melba’s is only four blocks from Central Park. In fact you can see Central Park, from this eatery. It is a park that changed the lives of the Central Park 5 forever. The evening of April 19th, 1989.

I said to Raymond Santana, “a lot has changed since then. How do you feel?”

“You know, it’s still a park that affects my life, to this day. Since 89, I have never been in that part. We drive by it all the time. I’m never going there. My daughter now is 10 years old. I don’t take that way, just because I don’t want her to see the numerous playgrounds. So she said, Daddy, can we go in and play? So I avoided it at all times.” Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

I found it quite interesting what he had just said, so I followed up. You haven’t been in Central Park since 1989?

Raymond Santana on Never Returning to Central Park

“No. And I go by it all the time. I live four blocks away. You know, I take alternative route so that my daughter doesn’t want to go into the park? because it affects me that much. Why what why does it affect us at this stage of your life? Because it’s still something I still have to deal with every day. I’m no longer Raymond Santana, the childhood friend, the cousin, you know, the guy that the next-door neighbor, I’m Raymond Santana, Central Park five. And so that label would never go away. You know, that label will always be there. So I go to my grave. The only thing is that now It stands for something that’s a little more positive. Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

What does that label mean…the Central Park five?

“Well, back in 1990, it was to me…we were the worst human beings on the planet Earth, you know, in prison to be known as to be labeled a rapist, you know, the only thing that trumps that horrible status is a child molester. And then now, you know, Central Park five, it puts an emphasis on it. You know, and that label was very negative back then.” Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

How old were you? You were about 14,15 when this happened 14 years old, 14 years old. And when you were placed in custody, at that age, you either went to Spofford or Riker’s Island. But are you bitter? Dominic Carter

“I’m not bitter, but there’s still this. I wouldn’t say bitterness But it’s still, like we say in the hood is always to be on point. And there’s still that aspect with me because I’ve been fighting this case for so long that you know, for now to just drop in and say that it’s over. It’s difficult. Every morning, I wake up, ready to fight, ready to do an interview, ready to talk to some kids ready to tell the story. And then now it’s like, Is it over? That’s not that simple for me.” Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

Does the money settlement? Does money make you feel better? Does that make this right?

“Money at this point? That wasn’t the object? You know, for us? It was about the closure? Not that we reach the closure. What do we do next? So the money really the money goes more for my daughter. It secures her future gives her a chance. You know, and and whatever we decide to do, you know, for the kids in the community, it gives them a chance, but what does it do for me? I’m about to be forty years old.” -Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

What do you mean money for the kids in the community?

“Well, you know, whatever we decided to do…. to give back to our people in our community…”Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

You’re gonna give back some of this money?

“You know, it has to be. Our community supported us so strongly. We have a duty to these kids, we have a duty to these this generation that’s coming up to be a major influence in their lives. So it’s about bringing about some change.”Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

“When I say the name, Donald Trump, what goes through your mind?” -Journalist Dominic Carter

“You know, this was the man who put out a full page ad to give us a death penalty. And we talking about 14 and 15 year old kids, he wanted to kill us!!! You know, now, we’ve been exonerated, he comes back, you know, all these years later, he still says we’re guilty. It’s pathetic. You know, it. Sometimes you gotta feel sorry for a person like that, because their thinking…. the soul’s twisted. This the man who went after the president. You know…”Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

“Mr. Trump called this settlement of some $40 million. I’m quoting here, Mr. Trump calls it a disgrace.”-Dominic Carter

“Well, I mean, you know, you’re talking about a man who hasn’t done anything for our community. You know, he doesn’t put any programs in our community. All he does is take from us. He never gave us nothing back.” Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

“Let me ask you this about Mr. Trump, and I’m quoting here, he has implied that even now, somehow you guys are involved in this. And I’m quoting Donald Trump, he says settling does not mean innocence?”

“Well, you know what, Donald Trump… he he’s going by the Armstrong report, written by, you know, a distinguished lawyer who, who worked for the police department named Michael Armstrong. And it just shows you what this man deals with. When people read that report. It’s about a 50-page document. And it brings about theories of how we’re still guilty, and all those theories have numerous holes in them. None of them will stand up in court.”-Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

In my mind at this point, I had a thought, and asked Raymond Santana about it. Would he like to one day meet Donald Trump?

“No, I have no desire to at all.” Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

Why not?

“Unless it came with an apology.” Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

“So if Donald Trump apologized to you, you would meet with him?” I again asked.

“Yeah, maybe.” Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

and then I said, but we know that apology would probably NEVER happen.

“So we don’t even entertain that thought.” -Raymond Santana about one day meeting with Donald Trump

I continued with our interview. ”You have said that you feel you’re still viewed with suspicion by many people. Is that accurate?

“Yes. You know, that’s the bloggers, you know, we call them you know, the internet gangsters who still like to get on social media and who write articles that say that we’re still guilty. None of them have no real evidence to prove that. But you know, they all go by the Armstrong report.” Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

“Did police… now that you look back at this…. Did police trick you into a confession?”-Dominic Carter

“Yes, definitely. It was trickery. They use everything in the book against us, you know, the, you know, the taken away of the basic necessities, you know, the sleep, no water, you know, being a question and it’s cold in here. You know, this, this goes back to the read technique, the nine steps on how to get a confession, then use that to the tee.“ -Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

“How long were you in a room when this happened? By police and the district attorney.” -Dominic Carter

“It’s estimated that I was in there over 15 to 30 hours.” -Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

“In one room?”

“Yes. With no food, no food, and no sleep, no sleep.” -Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

“A lot of people reading this right now. They have a hard time understanding that someone would confess to a crime that they didn’t commit?” Dominic Carter

“You know, first people have to know the dynamics of a false confession, what takes place around it? Like I just told you, you know, the no sleep, the no food, they’ve been in a room for, you know, several hours. You know, the good cop bad cops, that stuff that you see on Law and Order, which is true. It happens all the time. But the difference is that those people are going to those situations, nine times 10 or 14, they minus, or, you know, maybe they don’t have a higher education level. When you walk into something that’s unknown, you don’t know what’s gonna happen to you, you feel at this point that the police can kill you and get away with it. As we see it happens all the time. So when you walk into an element that is unsure of that you don’t know when it’s gonna stop, how long is fast is going to take….. that starts to break you down.” -Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

“Present. How do you feel about police officers?” -Dominic Carter

“You know, my, I think, for us, when we speak about this all the time, it’s about those who run the police force, those who are in charge those who make the rules, the policies and procedures. Those are the ones that we got to hold accountable. You know, growing up, you’ve seen a police officer, when I was real little I lived in the Bronx and a police officer come in and he knew the whole neighborhood. He knew the store owners, he knew my mother, he knew my father. And now there’s none of that there’s no policing community relationship. Um, so I can’t put the whole blame on so called police officers. Because I have come across numerous police officers who support the Central Park 5.” Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

I asked Raymond Santana if he felt he didn’t have a voice when this happened in 1989. He replies that he did not have voice at that time to stand up for himself.

“I was 14 years old. I didn’t know the system. You know, I was a timid kid… afraid. And not that many people stood up for us. I came from a big family. A lot of thought I was guilty. My own family and That’s why my bail money was never raised.” -Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

So this now requires a stop. A full stop.

Raymond Santana says some of his own family members didn’t believe in his innocence. And let’s look at his dire situation. He’s a teenager and has to remain in jail, waiting for his trial, accused of a horrible crime.

What does all this mean? In human terms?

Raymond Santana, never even attended a high school dance. And his mother died of cancer while he was locked up. The Central Park case almost completely destroyed his father.

But at least with his father, innocence all these years later, has meant redemption.

“Now he’s a very, he’s a proud man. And back in 89, he went through so much. He got ridiculed at work. He got ridiculed in the neighborhood, he developed a drinking problem. And now, you know, he has done a 360. I can’t get him to be quiet. You know, when the film came out? He wanted posters, tee-shirts. And he tells the whole world if you can.” -Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

“What was the worst part of this experience for you? I inquired.

Besides going to jail…losing my freedom? -Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

I quickly replied: “Well, at least you can laugh as…..”

“Well, you know, along the way. We lost a lot of people. My mom passed away when I was in prison due to cancer.” -Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

How do you feel about the Central Park jogger?

“You know, with the jogger. You know, we understand that she went through a dramatic injury, right. And she was able to recover and come back. And in this process her and the prosecutor and some of the detectives became very good friends. And so here you have somebody telling you for these years that we guilty, now Reyes comes along, and he does DNA testing that we’re innocent, the same people still telling you we guilty. And that’s something that’s very difficult to deal with. And so we you know, we never pushed the issue for her to meet us. We said if she ever wanted to talk to what she can come and talk to us.” -Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

Would you like to meet her?

“Yes, because I know that she has a lot of questions that she would like to ask….” -Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

“Really, why would you like to meet as far as you just said, as far as questions, but why would you Raymond Santana like to meet her?” — Dominic Carter

“Because I feel that she was victimized twice, not only by Matias Reyes, but also by the people who she befriend who told her this lie for all these years. And I still think that’s an a certain extent she still believes it.” -Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

Did you throughout the years, become emotional and break down and say, I’ll never be able to get over this?

“Yes. Yes. Which was what landed me back in prison back in, in, in 1998-99. You know, when I when I caught the drug case, because that was the time for me where I thought I hit rock bottom and I felt there was no other option for me and I just gave up. I said, you know what the hell with it, I can’t get a job. I can’t move on. I’m gonna just do the best that I can.” -Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

You couldn’t get a job?

“I could not get a job. I filled out numerous applications. And you know, when they say, Well, have you been convicted of a crime? Yes. You know, what is that crime? Rape in the first degree,!!! There’s no job!! -Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

So you’ve been a tortured soul for a very long time, very long time. What are you going to do with all that money?

“You know, it’s not a lot of money. You know, the only option that I look at the only thing I look at now is that I have the ability now to have options, which means that I’m not going to be so quick to rush to judgment. I’m just going to enjoy this moment and take my time and whatever I decide to do.”-Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

So I would imagine even at a young age of 40, that you are in retirement now and that you don’t work?

“No, I’m working.” Santana said with a burst of pride and a smile.

You’re working. A multi-million-dollar settlement and you’re working?

“I’m working, I’m working, you know, because I never had a job. You know, I had jobs for short periods of time. This is a job that I can say that, you know, I can own. I got a job, I’m doing something. I’m putting food on the table. You know, I’m paying bills, you know, and it’s part of healing. It’s part of making me whole.” -Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

And what do you do? I read somewhere that you work for a local union?

“Yes, I work for 1199 SEIU. I’m in the pension and benefits fund. So I process documents all day.” -Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

How do you feel… let’s talk politics for a second? Before I let you go here. How do you feel the Corporation Counsel, the chief lawyer for the City of New York, that permitted the settlement to go forward… as a former US Attorney. An African American by the name of Zachary Carter. And of course, Mayor de Blasio ran on a platform of if he was elected, he would settle this case We both know if the mayor didn’t want this case settled, it wouldn’t be settled?

“That’s…that’s hundred percent correct.” Raymond Santana said. So how do you feel about the mayor, I asked.

“I’m grateful. I’m grateful for the mayor, you know, that that he vowed to make a change with this city and, and to take away that line of divides, and bring them up, bring us all together? I’m glad that you know, he said, You know what, there was an injustice that was done here. And we need to correct this wrong. You know, I’m glad that Dante came out with this Afro and his Brooklyn sweater, you know, and it brought us that close, you know, to see that his kids represented our youth, you know, our future, you know, and so I was, you know, I was, I was just grateful at the end of the day.” -Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

The NY Central Park 1989 Crime Scene

Mr. Santana, what do you say to people reading this right now that might say, you know what, I’m not so sure. These guys have something to do with this.

“You know, I tell them, I say you don’t, at the end of the day, you don’t have to believe me. There’s numerous documents that you can read. You know, that’s the report by Nancy Ryan, which is a 52 page document that explains how we innocent, you know, if you want to read the officer report, that’s fine. You know, I you know, I challenged all media, you know, years from now, when all those of documents that are marked confidential become open to the public, if they ever do read them. Jim Dwyer says that they will over 94,000 documents marked confidential. Is that to cover something that we did? No, I doubt that.”-Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

“What do you think about the media? I mean, you were 14 years old, you didn’t know anything about the media, or newspapers or television reporters, or ratings or selling papers? What do you think about the media now that you’re 40 years old, and you’ve been through this experience?” -Dominic Carter

“Now, you know, when I got old, and I started to do my research and found out that there were over 400 articles written on us within the first two weeks, in this case, you know, 100 400, or 400 articles written on the five of us was packed everything that bar mean, of course, Wolf Pack, urban terrorists, the term super predator.” -Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

“You were aware of what was being said about you?”

“Back then No, just the label of the wild pack. The Urban terrorists, but even deeper than that, you know, the super predator terminology came because of this case, where 41 states changed their juvenile laws to make them harsher, that I didn’t know about until I got older. The media should now right the wrong! Write the correct stuff. You know, when we was exonerated, it was on page 15. Put us on the front now, let everybody know what happened to us. Don’t hide away from it.” -Raymond Santana/Central Park 5

Then Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau

We ended the interview with Raymond Santana telling me that he was grateful at the end of the day that then legendary, and iconic Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau overturned the convictions.

Morgenthau had called me privately on the telephone that day and told me he was going to do exactly that…and said he wanted to come on TV that night and talk about the case. Morgenthau proved to be a man of his word. I asked Raymond Santana how did he feel about Mr. Morgenthau, and he said:

“Grateful, grateful at the end of the day.” -Raymond Santana/On the DA Overturning the Convictions.

Today Raymond Santana lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his daughter. Santana launched a clothing line called “Park Madison NYC.” The proceeds from one of his tee-shirts bearing the name of each member of the Central Park five is donated to the Innocence Project, which helps to free innocent people from prison.

The story of the Central Park five has been told in a Netflix series “When They See Us.”

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Dominic Carter

Dominic Carter

Dominic Carter is a TV Political Commentator and WABC Talk Radio host in NY. Dominic is a Keynote Speaker on Children issues, Foster Care, and Mental Illness.

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