Why Is It So Hard for Politicians to Be on the Right Side of the Central Park Five Case?
After receiving criticism, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) announced through her campaign that she will be returning funds donated to her by Central Park Five prosecutor Linda Fairstein. Fairstein has been criticized harshly as recent events, including Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us, which dramatized the lives of the men accused and exonerated of the murder, have led to a reexamination of the case.
The Central Park Five case centers around Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise, whose convictions for the murder of a jogger were vacated in 2002.
Fairstein donated a total of $1,000 to Klobuchar in March 2019, according to the Federal Election Commission. The Guardian first reported the donation.
A Klobuchar spokesperson told CNN that the campaign would give back Fairstein’s donation, “The campaign shouldn’t have accepted this contribution and we’re returning it.”
Candidate and former mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg has also been criticized recently for his position on the Central Park Five case. A CBS News reporter asked Bloomberg on the campaign trail in Montgomery, Ala. about his earlier support for the prosecutors and police when he said they “acted in good faith” when prosecuting the men now known as “The Exonerated Five.”
Bloomberg said in response, “I really have no idea. I’ve read in the paper, I’ve been away from government for a long time. So apparently, the courts have ruled that they did not commit it, commit a crime, and that’s the final word and we just have to accept that. It isn’t a question of what anybody believes.”
But, it is important to note that Bloomberg was mayor when the men were exonerated and when they sued the city for mishandling the case, which was settled for $6 million. DuVernay expressed her disappointment in Bloomberg, saying in a tweet, “Sir. This will not work in 2020. The non-answers. The evasion. No, sir. Take the next opportunity to be clear about what you knew, what you did and what you did not do in this case.”
“I really can’t respond.”
“I don’t remember.”
“Go read up on it.”
Sir. This will not work in 2020. The non-answers. The evasion. No, sir. Take the next opportunity to be clear about what you knew, what you did and what you did not do in this case.
A happy new year warning. https://t.co/unZOaUF4zD
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) January 1, 2020
Later, Bloomberg walked back his earlier comments, telling Essence in an exclusive statement: “I believe, and the DNA shows, that these men were in jail and endured long sentences for a crime they did not commit. I understand that this case and so many like it are about the lives that were affected and the lasting scars left on individuals, families, and communities.
The statement continued, “When the police made tragic mistakes when I was mayor of New York, I met with families, spoke at funerals, and the city settled cases. Today, I, like many others, benefit from a better understanding of how we should respond to and rectify injustice when it occurs. This case and others like it show how people, most often people of color, in our country have been unjustly incarcerated and that’s why, as president, I will lead a major effort to overhaul the criminal justice system where it is broken and biased.”
And, of course, then there’s Donald Trump who infamously took out an ad in the New York papers calling for the execution of the innocent men at the time they were arrested. “You have people on both sides of [the case],” Trump said at the White House in June of last year. “They admitted their guilt.”
The Exonerated Five, some of whom were still children when they were prosecuted and forced into confessions, were always innocent. But corrupt policing and prosecuting stole years of their lives that they spent in jail, simply because they happened to be black and in Central Park on the night of a crime. That politicians cannot clearly see the right and wrong in this case more than a decade after they were cleared is troubling.