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The Central Park Five

May 14, 2019 in History

By History.com Editors

In 1989, five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem were convicted of raping a white woman while she was jogging in New York City’s Central Park. The Central Park Five served between six and 13 years before their convictions were vacated in 2002.

When Trisha Meili’s body was discovered in New York City’s Central Park early in the morning on April 20, 1989, she had been so badly beaten and repeatedly raped that she remained in a coma for nearly two weeks and retained no memory of the attack.

The , of the attack. “Her skull has been fractured, and her eye will later have to be put back in its place. … There is extreme swelling of the brain caused by the blows to the head. The probable result is intellectual, physical, and emotional incapacity, if not death. Permanent brain damage seems inevitable.”

With the attack occurring during a particularly violent era in New York City—1,896 homicides, a record at the time, took place a year earlier in 1988—police officers were quick to find somewhere to point the blame.

An April 21, 1989 story in the New York Daily News reported that on the night of the crime, a 30-person gang, or so-called “wolf pack” of teens launched a series of attacks nearby, including assaults on a man carrying groceries, a couple on a tandem bike, another male jogger and a taxi driver. Then, the News reported “at least a dozen youths grabbed the woman and dragged her off the path through heavy underbrush and trees, down a ravine toward a small body of water known as The Loch. It was there, 200 feet north of the transverse, that she was beaten and assaulted, police said. ‘They dragged her down like she was an animal,’ one police official said.”

According to New York magazine, police told reporters the teens used the word “wilding” in describing their acts and “that while in a holding cell the suspects had laughed and sung the rap hit ‘Wild Thing.’”

A ‘Media Tsunami’

The crime was splashed across front pages for months, with the teens depicted as symbols of violence and called “bloodthirsty,” “animals,” “savages” and “human mutations,” the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism and research organization, reports.

Newspaper columnists joined in. The New York Post’s Pete Hamill wrote that the teens hailed “from a world of crack, welfare, guns, knives, indifference and ignorance…a …read more


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