The American justice system has time after time proved itself to be anything but just. It is a broken system plagued by corruption and biases which prohibit it from living up to its primary purpose- serving justice in unlaw situations. On the evening of April 27, 1989, the American justice system failed to protect five innocent young boys- Korey, Yusef, Antron, Kevin, and Raymond. The mental manipulation of these boys and the racial tensions evident in their notorious court case led to their wrongful convictions. This paper will focus on the injustice of the so called “justice” system and its flaws, specifically regarding the media, that ultimately destroyed the lives of these innocent boys and deprived them of their youth. a
Media plays a prominent role in the justice system. In the article “Transforming the Central Park Jogger into the Central Park Five” the author, Greg Stratton, addresses the influence that the media- such as the New York Times- had on the court case. He provides an in depth analysis of the events that occurred throughout the trial and shares with the audience insight about how powerful the media is in the outcome of this matter. Stratton as well discusses the errors of the justice system which led up to the wrongful conviction of the Central Park Five. His work can be classified as an educational article as he seeks a broad audience of individuals to inform about the topic who are unaware of these existing flaws. He gives insight about how “media selectivity combined with justice system errors can form distinct narratives that shift with time”.
People tend to believe what they read and see in the news, which alters the public’s opinion. The high media focus and racial tensions surrounding the boys’ cases had the ability to “shape the public consciousness when the full version of events had yet to be decided”. They were perceived to be guilty from the beginning by prosecutors and that’s all they could be through the eyes of a nation who was being shown inadequate information of the situation. The author’s stance on the topic shows that he is not indifferent to the fact that the justice system is broken. He is aware of the errors that exist in it and uses the somber wrongful convictions of the Exonerated Five to depict his point.
The impact of the media on the court case is also depicted in the article ‘The Journey from ‘Just Us’ to Some ‘Justice’. Authors Kathryn Beardsley and Carrie Teresa intended to acknowledge the racial tensions that tied into the media coverage of the trial. Throughout their article, the two authors discuss the errors of the justice system regarding juvenile situations and the existence of biased representations of minorities in the media. Their audience was targeted towards those individuals curious about the truthful coverage of these innocent boys as well as those who seek to uncover the effect of media in the justice system. In their article, both authors served to bring attention to the biased press that surrounded this 1989 case.
They focused on the Central Park Five coverage by the New York Amsterdam News, an American newspaper primarily in favor of protecting and educating blacks about updates in their community. This positive media coverage was overpowered by the negative writings of well known newspapers such as the New York Times which stressed the “novelty of the ‘kind’ of criminal behavior allegedly perpetrated by the five youths.” The media subjected these boys to criminal stereotypes causing them to be viewed as nothing more than the lowest beings in society. Beardsley and Teresa exemplify how the term ‘wilding’ which had been used to describe the behavior of the accused was “narratively useful not only because it evoked the barbarity of the perpetrators and public concerns over youth violence but also because of its racial connotations.” The article states that this type of media coverage was responsible for “evoking well-worn stereotypes of young black males as being rowdy, animalistic, and ultimately violent, with little or no direct evidence to support these claims.” What chance did these boys have against proving themselves innocent when they have a lifetime of hatred and prejudice against them?
Class status portrays a crucial part in media coverage. The widening gap between the wealthy and the needy contributes to this broken justice system. As the innocent are locked away, the guilty still have their freedom. While the poor are struggling to defend themselves in court, the rich are buying their way out. In 1989 during the Central Park Five trial Donald Trump paid $85,000 to release a local ad in the New York Times. The ad proclaimed “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!” The capitalized statement flashing in the paper was intended to capture the eyes of the government.
Trump’s purpose in creating the ad was to contribute to the negative media coverage of the Central Park Five. Even without reliable evidence this man was willing to promote the sentencing of death to teenage boys. He as well as many other privileged and wealthy individuals on the other side of the park were criminals themselves, yet the press never discusses that, even in today’s society. Although many may deny it, there is power in money. Trump abused his power to publicly announce his demand and “poison the minds of many people living in New York” (Time Magazine). On April 24th, 2013 Donald Trump tweeted “The Central Park Five documentary was a one sided piece of garbage that didn’t explain the horrific crimes of these young men while in [the] park”. Thirty years later he is still shaming these men for a crime they have been proven innocent of not committing. He is not the only one stubbornly refusing to admit their innocence which reflects on just how impactful media coverage has played in the justice system.
The factors of class and race regarding media coverage are all discussed in the editorial “How the Central Park Five Expose the Fundamental Injustice in Our Legal System”. In his scholarly writing found on the Washington Post, Carl Suddler explains that this system had been “designed to follow the letter of the law, not the spirit of fairness”. Suddler establishes a firm stance about the justice system as he goes into depth about the various aspects that have infected it with discrimination and inequality. He primarily focuses on the story of the Central Park Five whose case he describes as “framed by the dynamics of race and class’. Through a stirring tone and credible sources within his writing, Carl Suddler successfully fulfills his purpose of representing the injustice that historically been ignored. He targets and audience who is relatively knowledgeable about this matter and seeks to further educate them.
To enhance his point Suddler uses the unknown cases of the Scottsboro Boys, the Trenton Six, and the Harlem Six- all groups of young minority boys who had similarly been wrongfully accused decades before the Central Park Five. He is showing a pattern that has been in existence since the inception of this system. The institution promises equal justice yet it does not live up to it. These teenage boys that came from low income families had to defend themselves from a corrupt system in favor of the wealthy and the privileged and a media who degraded them to racial stereotypes. Before even becoming suspects, these boys were already viewed as criminals due to the color of their skin. When an individual comes from a certain background, authorities stubbornly believe they are nothing more than that. The justice system focuses more on incarceration and criminalization rather than rehabilitation and growth, especially when it comes to minority youth. Despite having no valuable evidence all the system could use were the coerced statements forcefully taken from the accused. Even with an iota of evidence against them, the Central Park Five found their way to wrongful conviction. The boys had something greater against them than factual evidence, their status in society.
The justice system is undoubtedly broken. It will continue to be dishonest and fail future generations just as it did thirty years ago to the Central Park Five. The justice system focuses more on incarceration and criminalization rather than rehabilitation and growth. Minorities and less privileged individuals will continue to be victims by the unjust hands of this system. Unless it can be purified of its biases and flaws this pattern will never disappear. The injustice of the so called “justice” system and its flaws, specifically the media, is responsible for the destruction of innocent lives and the poor portrayal of legal matters to the public.