'Central Park Five' Film Calls Attention to City Son

Ken Burns’ documentary “Central Park Five” debuted Nov. 23 on several screens and is now spreading nationally. The film is about a handful of young black males who in 1989 were falsely convicted for the brutal sexual assault of a white woman executive who was jogging in New York’s Central Park. 

Before Burns’ “Central Park Five,” Wayne Dawkins recalled the horror in his new book City Son: Andrew W. Cooper’s Impact on Modern-Day Brooklyn. Dawkins
was a community activist and journalist who founded the influential City Sun.

In the book Dawkins set the stage this way: 
April 1989 marked five months since a grand jury had concluded that Tawana Brawley’s claim that she was abducted and repeatedly raped was a hoax. The Brawley family moved south to Virginia to escape the media glare. The Rev. Al Sharpton still insisted that Brawley, now eighteen, had been violated, but his bluster amounted to the preacher who cried wolf. In the spring of 1989, a new sex assault would shock and divide city residents.

On the night of April 19, a series of violent assaults inside Central Park were reported to police. Dawkins wrote: 
At 1:30 a.m. as two construction workers walked through the park, they heard moaning and discovered the woman jogger writhing in a ravine. Police said she had been raped and her skull had been bashed with a large rock or metal pipe. The woman lost 80 percent of the blood in her head, and investigators believed she was going to die. She survived. When questioned, the woman had no recollection of what happened to her.

What ensued were police sources and the local press repeating that black and Hispanic teenagers formed a “wolf pack” and engaged in “wilding” assaults. Teenage males were arrested then convicted of the brutal assault although there was no physical evidence of their attacks and the confessions they proffered were obtained other duress.

Years later, a man came forward and confessed to attacking the jogger; his DNA matched fluids on the victim’s body. The young convicts were released from prison after the injustice was revealed. They are now suing the city of New York. 

The Central Park incident was one of a handful of racially violent stories that roiled New York in the 1980s. Now that acclaimed director Burns has brought the story to movie screens, read more about that tumultuous time in Wayne Dawkins’ City Son: Andrew W. Cooper’s Impact on Modern-Day Brooklyn.