Monday, December 31, 2012

The Central Park Five [2012]

MPAA (NR)  Roger Ebert (3 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
Roger Ebert's review

In a year of some truly exceptional documentaries including Ai Weiwei Never Sorry, Band of Sisters, Craigslist Joe, Searching for Sugar Man and The Other Dream Team, The Central Park Five (written and directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon) nevertheless has to stand-out in the United States as the most significant (if the most painful) among them.

Why?  Because it is about five teenagers who caught-up in the hysteria following a truly sensational/awful crime -- the 1989 brutal rape of a white female jogger in New York's Central Park (the Central Park Jogger Case) -- ended-up serving years, in one case over a decade of time, for the crime even though the only evidence against them were their videotaped confessions extracted from them (mind you most were 14-15 year olds, the oldest was 16) without the presence of a lawyer.   No DNA from any of them was found on the victim or even at the crime scene and even their own "confessions" were contradictory.  The Prosecutors knew all this and yet ran with the case against these five youths (all Blacks and Hispanics, some who didn't even know each other) anyway.

Was there pressure to quickly solve the case?  Yes.  Were the 5 youths squeaky clean?  No.  They were part of a veritable if impromtu mob of youths that could have numbered as much as several hundred, that did pass through Central Park on that hot summer night, a mob that the five later accused of the rape freely admit to this day did do some pretty awful things.  (One of the five later accused of the rape did say that he saw _someone else_ hit a homeless man over the head with a beer-bottle, etc... But he noted also "we were 14, our jaws were dropped, we were stunned.  You normally don't see those sorts of things ...")

In any case, the whole case was an awful tragedy.  And it can serve as a reminder to young people of two very important lessons: (1) STAY OUT OF TROUBLE.  PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE don't go near it because ONCE YOU ARE "THERE" you could end-up being sucked into and "taking the rap" for things that you honestly did not do.  (2) As in the case of another stunning film based on another true story, Compliance [2012], PLEASE, PLEASE PLEASE KNOW YOUR RIGHTS.  Especially AS A KID, tell the authorities "As a minor, I can't tell or do ANYTHING for you without my parents (all five of the youths involved in this case had parents/families THAT LOVED THEM) or a lawyer present.  I simply can't."

Finally, Prosecutors could save _everybody_ needless heartache by insisting on their own that "Confessions" made without the presence of a Defense Attorney simply be retaken in the presence of one.  If the person really felt remorse/wanted to Confess, he/she would do so AGAIN anyway.  To view at the Justice System as a game would seem to bring-us to this point where we have of one awful tragedy resulting in a second one.  Everybody involved in this case and, indeed, all of society deserved better than this.

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