Central park 5 now

  • The “Central Park Five” are the subject of Emmy-nominated Netflix miniseries When They See Us.
  • After being wrongfully incarcerated for the 1989 rape of a female jogger in New York City, the Central Park Five were vacated of all charges in 2002.
  • Netflix viewers are wondering: Where are the Central Park Five now?

It’s no secret that the release of Netflix miniseries When They See Us propelled the men known as the “Central Park Five” back into the spotlight in a huge way. On Sunday, the Exonerated Five, as they’re now known, will even be attending the Emmys, where the show is up for 16 awards, with director Ava Duvernay.

Wrongly convicted for the 1989 assault and rape of a female jogger in Central Park, these five black and Latino men — Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise, and Yusef Salaam — served years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.

As When They See Us shows, the true perpetrator of the crime (murderer and serial rapist Matias Reyes) confessed in 2002, and Kevin, Antron, Raymond, Korey, and Yusef were vacated of all charges shortly afterward. But after watching the series today, many viewers are left wondering: Where are the Central Park Five now?

Kevin Richardson, 44

Kevin was just 14 years old when he became a suspect in the Central Park Jogger case. After being wrongfully convicted, he was sentenced to five to 10 years in a youth correctional facility and ultimately served six years before being released.

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Today, Kevin lives in New Jersey with his wife and two daughters. He works as an advocate for criminal justice reform, and continues to speak about his experiences at various events.

Antron McCray, 45

At the time of his arrest in connection to the Central Park Jogger case, Antron was 15 years old. He was pushed to falsely confess by his father, who believed Antron might go free if he told police he was involved in the jogger’s rape. Unfortunately, this led to Antron’s wrongful conviction, and he served six years in a youth correctional facility before going free.

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Antron leads a relatively quiet life today in Georgia, where he lives with his wife and their six children. But to this day, he still has not forgiven his father for pushing him to lie to the police.

Raymond Santana, 44

Like Kevin, Raymond was also only 14 years old when he was arrested in connection to the Central Park Jogger case. After submitting a false confession, he was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to five to 10 years in a youth correctional facility. He served six years before he was released.

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Today, Raymond lives in Georgia with his teenage daughter. In 2018, he started his own clothing company called Park Madison NYC. (Among other shirts, jackets, and hats, the company offers a T-shirt that lists the names of the Central Park Five.) And interestingly, it was actually a tweet from Raymond that inspired director Ava Duvernay to start working on When They See Us.

“I was ready and I was willing to relive, to go through that pain again, to cry,” he told The New York Times of working with Ava on the miniseries. “It’s a sacrifice. You want to change the culture, you’ve got to be engaged. This is how we got engaged.”

Korey Wise, 46

The oldest of the so-called Central Park Five, Korey was 16 when he became a suspect in the Central Park Jogger case — and because of his age, he was tried and sentenced as an adult. Korey ended up serving 12 years in adult prisons before the true perpetrator of the crime, Matias Reyes, met him and decided to confess.

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When Kevin, Antron, and Raymond’s lawsuit against New York was finally settled, Korey received $12.2 million, the largest portion of the settlement. But he knows that money will never give him back the time he lost while wrongfully incarcerated: “You can forgive, but you won’t forget,” he says in Sarah and Ken Burns’ 2012 documentary, The Central Park Five. “You won’t forget what you lost … No money could bring the life that was missing or the time that was taken away.”

Since being released from prison and exonerated, Korey has continued to live in New York City, where he works as a public speaker and criminal justice reform advocate. In 2015, he donated $190,000 to the University of Colorado’s chapter of the Innocence Project, which then changed its name to the Korey Wise Innocence Project at Colorado Law in his honor.

Yusef Salaam, 45

Yusef was 15 years old when he was wrongfully accused of participating in the rape of the Central Park Jogger. Unlike the other boys, he never actually submitted a written or videotaped confession — but he was wrongfully convicted nonetheless. Like Kevin, Antron, and Raymond, Yusef was sentenced to five to 10 years in a youth correctional facility and ended up serving more than six years.

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Today, Yusef is a father to 10 children and lives in Georgia with his family. He’s a published poet, public speaker, and advocate for criminal justice reform. Yusef has also received various awards for his work, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from former President Barack Obama in 2016.

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More on ‘When They See Us’ Heather Finn Content Strategy Editor Heather Finn is the content strategy editor at Good Housekeeping, where she heads up the brand’s social media strategy and covers entertainment news on everything from ABC’s ‘The Good Doctor’ to Netflix’s latest true crime documentaries.

Kevin Richardson

On the night of April 19, 1989, a 28-year-old female jogger was brutally attacked and raped in New York’s Central Park. She was found unconscious with her skull fractured, her body temperature at 84 degrees, and 75 percent of her blood drained from her body. When she recovered, she had no memory of the assault. Initial police investigations quickly focused on a group of African American and Latino youths who were in police custody for a series of other attacks perpetrated in the park that night.

Related: Central Park Five Tragedy Reframed in Netflix Series When They See Us

The Confessions
After prolonged periods of police interrogation, five teenagers – Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise – confessed to being involved in the attacks. At the time, the defendants were between 14 and 16 years of age. Richardson, McCray, Sanatana, and Wise all gave videotaped confessions.

The Trials and Convictions
The confessions were presented as evidence though they differed in the time, location, and participants of the rape. At trial, the prosecutors also presented forensic evidence. A forensic analyst testified that a hair found on the victim was “similar” to Richardson’s hair “to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty.” Because there is not adequate empirical data on the frequency of various class characteristics in human hair, an analyst’s assertion that hairs are similar is inherently prejudicial and lacks probative value. Also presented as evidence was a rock found near the scene of the crime that had blood and hair on it; evidence that was believed to have come from the victim.

The following year, all five teenagers were convicted, in two separate trials, of charges stemming from the attack. Then fourteen years old, Kevin Richardson was tried as a juvenile and convicted of attempted murder, rape, sodomy, and robbery. He was sentenced to five to ten years.

In early 2002, Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and rapist, admitted that he alone was responsible for the attack on the Central Park jogger. Reyes had already committed another rape near Central Park days earlier in 1989, using the same modus operandi. The victim of that rape had described the rapist as having fresh stitches in his chin and an investigator quickly linked Reyes to this description. Although the police had Reyes’s name on file, they failed to connect Reyes to the rape and assault of the Central Park jogger.

The Exonerations
Eventually, the evidence from the crime was subjected to DNA testing. The DNA profile obtained from the spermatozoa found in the rape kit matched the profile of Reyes. Mitochondrial DNA testing on the hairs found on one of the defendants revealed that the hairs were not related to the victim or the crime. Further testing on hairs found on the victim also matched Reyes. Neither blood nor the hair found on the rock matched the victim. The evidence corroborates Reyes’s confession to the crime and is consistent with the other crimes committed by Reyes. He is currently serving a life sentence for those crimes.

On December 19, 2002, on the recommendation of the Manhattan District Attorney, the convictions of the five men were overturned. Kevin Richardson had served five and a half years of his sentence.

The investigation of the convictions of these five teenagers has raised questions regarding police coercion and false confessions, as well as, the vulnerability of juveniles during police interrogations.

Kevin Richardson dreamed of attending Syracuse University before his life was derailed when he and four other black and Hispanic teens were wrongfully convicted in the 1989 Central Park jogger case.

Now, 30 years later, Syracuse has honored Richardson with a scholarship in his name.

Richardson and the other teens were exonerated in the rape case in 2002 and released from prison.

Last week, Richardson, now 44, got the opportunity to walk the campus of the private university in upstate New York, an experience he called “surreal.”

“Just being here and being 44 and having that dream at 14, and now I’m here. It’s mind-blowing,” he told the school’s independent student newspaper The Daily Orange.

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The university announced the establishment of the Kevin Richardson Scholarship Fund, which Richardson said in an Instagram post will benefit “students of color to further their education at Syracuse University.”

In an emotional speech during a ceremony announcing the scholarship, Richardson expressed gratitude.

“For a scholarship to be named after me, means the world to me. I’ve been grateful to embrace a lot of good things that happened to me, but for my name to be connected to black and brown kids to carry my legacy, and to be connected to Syracuse University means the world to me,” he said in a video he posted on Instagram.

Rachel Vassel, assistant vice president of multicultural advancement at Syracuse, arranged for Richardson to visit following a June interview in which he told Oprah Winfrey that he had always dreamed of attending Syracuse when he was young.

Richardson also told Winfrey that he was a fan of the school’s basketball team and had always wanted to play the trumpet in Syracuse’s marching band.

During his time on campus, Richardson posted on Instagram that he was given a custom Syracuse University basketball jersey with the number “44” on it, got to meet the men’s basketball coach and received a Yamaha trumpet.

He showed off the musical instrument in a post, writing: “Getting reacquainted with a long lost passion of mine after 30 years… Great memories & a big Shout out to Yamaha for providing me with this special chrome edition Trumpet!!!

Richardson and four other teenagers — Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray —were wrongfully convicted of raping a white female jogger in 1989 in New York’s Central Park. They were all exonerated in 2002.

The case gained renewed interest with the release of the Netflix limited series “When They See Us,” which has been nominated for 16 Emmys.

Viewpoint: What series on Central Park Five teaches us today

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Yusef Salaam, during his trial

A true-crime Netflix series which focuses on a failure of the US justice system during the late 1980s has reminded a new audience that the horrors of the past still have meaning today.

Director Ava DuVernay’s miniseries When They See Us tells the story of five young African-American and Latino boys who were falsely accused and wrongly convicted of attacking and raping a white woman in New York City’s Central Park in 1989.

The scope of the injustices inflicted upon these teenagers, ages 14 to 16, has left audiences terrified and outraged.

“I didn’t know that this kind of thing still happened past the 50s and 60s,” says Jessica Randolph, who lives in Maryland.

Image copyright Alamy Image caption Antron McCray and his mother Linda McCray outside court in July 1990

Ms Randolph, 26, African-American, was born after the trial and had previously heard about the Central Park Five case, but she did not know the explicit details. For her, watching When They See Us felt like re-living a real-life horror story that tragically has always been a part of every-day black existence in America.

“It was a re-introduction to how America treats black and brown people.… the American system of destroying black and brown bodies,” she says.

America has a long history of falsely accusing black men of raping white women. The plot of America’s first blockbuster movie, DW Griffith’s incredibly racist Birth of a Nation, centred on protecting white women from black men. And in 1955, 14-year-old black boy Emmett Till was brutally murdered and mutilated for reportedly whistling at a white woman. In 2018, over 60 years later, the white woman, Carolyn Donham, retracted parts of her story. Till’s open casket funeral allowed the world to see America’s racist brutality.

  • Who were the Central Park Five?

Many Americans hoped that this bigotry was confined to the past, but learning about the experiences of the Central Park Five has reminded so many black Americans that the horrors of the past are still the horrors of today.

The facts of the case are simple. Around 21:00 on 19 April 1989, Trisha Meili, a 28-year-old white woman, went jogging through northern Central Park. During her run she was attacked, beaten, raped and left for dead. Her body was found around 01:30 the next day. Her attack left her in a coma for 12 days, but she survived. She has no recollection of her attack.

During that same night roughly 30 African American and Latino teenagers were also in Central Park, but not in the same area as Meili. The police were called around 22:00 to break up this gathering of black and brown children. That night Raymond Santana and Kevin Richardson were arrested and kept in jail overnight.

By the next morning, the New York Police Department (NYPD) had decided to connect these children to the rape of Meili, and soon thereafter Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray and Korey Wise were arrested.

Despite not having any evidence linking these boys to the assault, and all of them professing their innocence; the NYPD intimidated and coerced the five boys into confessing to the crime.

  • Is our love of true crime problematic?

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Central Park

The NYPD and district attorney’s office perpetuated a narrative of these young boys being dangerous rapists and a threat to our society, and soon this trial garnered national attention. In 1989, Donald Trump even took out full-page ads in four major New York newspapers, spending nearly $90,000, demanding that New York bring back the death penalty for these five boys.

All five boys were found guilty of raping Meili.

When They See Us not only showed not only how these boys were essentially prejudged guilty until proven innocent, and how the entire criminal justice system failed them, but also America’s tragic reliance on fearing non-white bodies.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption A scene from A Birth of a Nation

“Fear of blackness, or the fear of otherness more broadly, in many ways is one of the organizing elements of American identity,” says Howard University professor Greg Carr. “And the whole four plus hours , depicts that fear of blackness.”

The miniseries reminds people how black boys are rarely seen as just boys in America. Too often they are treated as adults and threats to American society, and this cultural fear frequently results in the criminal justice system being used against them.

Of the five boys, Korey Wise was the only one who was 16 at the time of trial. Because of this he was sent to an adult prison and not a youth detention centre like the others.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Kevin Richardson (right) and Raymond Santana discuss their settlement with the city

He stayed in prison the longest, and the notoriety of his case meant he was constantly in danger. Various factions, including white supremacists, wanted to attack or kill him. As a result, he spent much of his time in solitary confinement.

Watching the trauma of Korey’s ordeal was the most difficult part of the series for many people and required a pause break, many people say. Seeing Korey constantly battle for his life and his own sanity as he spent months on end in isolation became too hard to watch.

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In 2002, the Central Park Five were fully exonerated of the crimes they were convicted of after Matias Reyes, who was already serving a life sentence for murder, confessed to the crime. DNA evidence proved that he attacked and raped Meili. Following their exoneration the boys, now men, sued New York City, but for a decade the city refused to agree to the settlement.

Not until 2014 did the city agree to pay the men $41 million to compensate for the wrongful convictions.

Even today, many black families require that their boys must carry a card stating their age and requesting to see an attorney so that they do not end up like the Central Park Five, who were tricked into falsely confessing to crimes without a lawyer present.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The Central Park Five with series director Ava DuVernay

So even if the case happened over 30 years ago, black families still defend themselves against the same dangers. The black community knows this is a horror we could still unjustly confront.

To make matters worse, the New York real estate developer who wanted the death penalty for these boys is now the president, and he launched his campaign by calling some Mexicans rapists and murderers. From the beginning, Donald Trump has organised his base and rallied his supporters around a fear of the other, and frequently as an act to protect white women against the non-existent threat of being raped by black and brown men.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Thousands of black Americans visited the casket of 14-year-old Emmett Till

The show argues that the Central Park Five were good kids, but America worked to destroy their lives by refusing to believe that young black boys could play in a public park without harming white people.

When They See Us has reminded the minority community how they cannot get back what America’s criminal justice system, and America’s fear of black and brown bodies can take away in an instant.

Despite intimately knowing about America’s systemic oppression and inequality, seeing it on film has provided everyone with a harsh wake up call and shaken people to their core. This nightmare has tragically always been the American norm.

Barrett is a writer, journalist and filmmaker focusing on race, culture and politics

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — After a dramatic, hour-long meeting that recalled events from nearly seven decades ago, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state’s three-member Cabinet granted posthumous pardons Friday to four African-American men accused of raping a white woman in a 1949 case now seen as a racial injustice.

The case of the men known as the Groveland Four has been documented in a book and is considered a blight on Florida’s history. One of the four was killed before he could be charged and the other three were convicted on dubious evidence.

The families of the men accused of the assault told DeSantis and the Cabinet — meeting as the clemency board — that there is overwhelming evidence the men were innocent and there was no rape. The woman who was 17 when she said she was raped, sat in a wheelchair and later told Gov. DeSantis and the Cabinet the rape did indeed happen, saying she was dragged from a car, had a gun put to her head and was told not to scream or they would “blow your brains out.”

At one point, the two sides briefly clashed. Beverly Robinson, a niece of one of the Groveland Four, was speaking to the governor and the Cabinet when she turned to the woman and her sons.

“It never happened. You all are liars,” Robinson said.

“That’s enough out of you,” the woman said.

“I know it’s enough out of me. It’s always enough when you’re telling the truth,” Robinson replied.

The unanimous vote to pardon came almost two years after the state House and Senate voted to formally apologize to relatives of the Groveland Four and to ask then-Gov. Rick Scott to pardon the men. Scott, now a U.S. senator, never took action. DeSantis replaced Scott on Tuesday and made the pardons a priority.

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“I don’t know that there’s any way you can look at this case and think that those ideals of justice were satisfied. Indeed, they were perverted time and time again, and I think the way this was carried out was a miscarriage of justice,” DeSantis said.

The ordeal began in Lake County in 1949, when the then-17-year-old said she had been raped. Three of the men were arrested and severely beaten; a fourth, Ernest Thomas, fled.

A posse of about 1,000 men was formed to hunt down Thomas. He was shot 400 times when they found him sleeping under a tree. White residents also formed a mob and went to a black neighborhood, burning houses and firing guns into homes in a disturbance that took days to quell.

Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin and Samuel Shepherd were convicted by an all-white jury. Other evidence that could have exonerated them — such as a doctor’s conclusion that the teen probably wasn’t raped — was withheld at their trial. Greenlee was sentenced to life, and Irvin and Shepherd to death.

Thurgood Marshall, later the first African-American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, took up Irvin and Shepherd’s appeals for the NAACP, and in 1951 the U.S. Supreme Court ordered new trials.

Just before those trials began, Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall shot Irvin and Shepherd, claiming the handcuffed men tried to escape as he transferred them from prison to a jail. Shepherd died. Irvin was shot in the neck and survived despite an ambulance refusing to transport him because he was black. He was again convicted, even though a former FBI agent testified that prosecutors manufactured evidence against him.

Charges were never brought against any white law enforcement officers or prosecutors who handled the cases.

Irvin was paroled in 1968 and found dead in his car while returning to Lake County for a funeral a year later.

Greenlee was paroled in 1960 and died in 2012.

Greenlee’s daughter, Carol Greenlee, told DeSantis and the Cabinet that there was overwhelming evidence that her father was innocent.

“He was accused, put in jail and tortured for something he didn’t do,” she said.

The woman who said she was raped disputed the families’ stories.

Afterward, state Sen. Gary Farmer, who sponsored the 2017 resolution apologizing to the families, said the woman’s comments were disappointing.

“She’s now here at the end of her life and she had a chance to come clean, to seek forgiveness for herself and to support the justice these four families and these four men deserve,” Farmer said. “It’s very said that she lost this opportunity and continues to perpetuate this lie. This crime did not happen. The evidence is overwhelming.”

  • On April 19, 1989, 28-year-old Trisha Meili was raped and attacked while jogging in N.Y.C.’s Central Park
  • Soon after, five teens were wrongfully convicted of the crime in a case that would eventually be known as the Central Park Five case.
  • The 30th anniversary of the incident and the case, which was adapted into a Netflix series by Ava DuVernay called When They See Us, arrived in May.
  • When They See Us earned 16 Emmy nominations—including Best Limited Series, Best Directing for DuVernay, and a ton of other Best Acting nods.

Friday, April 19th of this year marked the 30-year-anniversary of the events that began the Central Park Five case, the infamous miscarriage of justice which was subsequently explored in Ava DuVernay’s acclaimed Netflix series When They See Us. The series was universally praised for its unflinching, clear-eyed chronicling of the story, with everyone from critics to Oprah Winfrey floored by the power of the show’s acting, writing and filmmaking. When They See Us is also nominated for 16 awards at the 2019 Emmys–including Best Limited Series, Best Directing for DuVernay, and a slew of Best Acting nominations for its ensemble cast. The ceremony will take place this Sunday, September 22, but the show already picked up one award, for Best Casting, at the Creative Arts Emmys last weekend.

When They See Us tells the true story of the 1989 case which saw five Black and Latino teenagers wrongfully convicted of attacking and raping a white woman, and their eventual acquittal came only after all five teens had served their time. Memorably, the case shed light on ugly truths about racism, the justice system, and the deeply fraught relations between police and communities of color both in New York City and throughout the United States.

And aside from both the anniversary and DuVernay’s celebrated film series, the Central Park Five case also resurfaced in the news because of President Donald Trump, who in 1989 heavily pushed for the five teens convicted to receive the death penalty. While the case itself is quite complex, below are five key elements to know if you want to revisit When They See Us—or simply learn more.

The crime

Trisha Meili in 2003. Getty ImagesGetty Images

On April 19, 1989, 28-year-old Trisha Meili was raped and viciously attacked while jogging in New York City’s Central Park. Meili spent 12 days in a coma following the attack, and was so severely disfigured that a friend was able to identify her only by her ring. The attack sparked public outcry and an onslaught of media coverage.

On the same evening, a group of around 30 teenagers had been seen engaging in disorderly conduct in the park, throwing rocks at cars and assaulting passing joggers. Two 14-year-olds out of that group, Kevin Richardson and Raymond Santana, were arrested by police for “unlawful assembly.” But after Meili was found unconscious at 1: 30 a.m. following their arrest, police between her attack and the earlier “mischief” in the park.

The convictions

New York Daily News ArchiveGetty Images

Richardson and Santana were still detained when Meili’s body was found, and were questioned about their involvement in her attack. The following day, police brought in several more teenagers for questioning, among them 15-year-old Yusef Salaam (first image above, far left), 15-year-old Antron McCray, and 16-year-old Korey Wise. All five teens initially confessed to the attack on camera, but later recanted their stories after consulting with lawyers. Salaam wrote in The Washington Post in 2016 that police interrogated them for hours without food, water or sleep, and that their confessions were coerced.

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But the confessions were used as key evidence for the prosecution, and despite there being no physical evidence tying any of them to the crime, all five were indicted on charges of attempted murder, rape in the first degree, sexual abuse in the first degree, two counts of assault in the first degree, and riot in the first degree.

Steven Lopez. New York Post ArchivesGetty Images

At the first trial in August of 1990, Salaam, McCray, and Santana were acquitted of attempted murder, but convicted of rape, assault, robbery, and riot. In a second trial later that year, Richardson was convicted of attempted murder, rape, assault, and robbery, while Wise was convicted of sexual abuse, assault, and riot. The five faced sentences that ranged from five to 15 years in prison. Wise, the only one of the five who was tried as an adult, spent almost 12 years at Rikers Island.

The Donald Trump ad

I really want this Central Park Five series that’s coming to def show the racist ignorance displayed by Trump with his newspaper ads f/ 1989 pic.twitter.com/ALNvRG0Qjo

— Ave (@SebastianAvenue) July 6, 2017

The subject of the Central Park Five arose during the 2016 election cycle, after then-candidate Trump was asked about his prominent efforts to ensure the five boys were not only convicted, but sentenced to death. In 1989, after the five teens had been arrested, Trump spent $85,000 on full-page ads in four New York newspapers—The New York Times, the Daily News, the New York Post, and New York Newsday. The ads read, “Bring Back the Death Penalty. Bring Back Our Police!”

Though it was not named explicitly in the ad, coverage at the time confirmed that Trump was referring to the Central Park Five case, and thus was calling for the death penalty for the five teens.

In 2016, Trump told CNN that he still believed the five were guilty, despite the evidence that led to their acquittal along with a confession by the man who attacked Meili. Since, Trump has never apologized for his role in the case.

The acquittal

New York Post ArchivesGetty Images

12 years after the teens were convicted, Matias Reyes—a convicted murderer and rapist serving a 33-year sentence—confessed to raping and beating Meili. Reyes said that he acted alone, and DNA evidence corroborated his story. Since the statute of limitations had passed, Reyes was not prosecuted, while the five had already served their sentences and been released.

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Their convictions were vacated by New York County district attorney Robert M. Morgenthau in 2002. Soon after, the Central Park Five sued New York City for $250 million, accusing the city of false arrest and malicious prosecution. The administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg fought the lawsuit for more than a decade, but his successor Bill de Blasio said his administration would work swiftly to settle the case and correct the “huge injustice” that was done. They eventually reached a settlement for $40 million.

The aftermath

While it would be a gross understatement to say that the lives of these five people were irrevocably damaged by what happened, there is light on the horizon. In June of 2017, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, and Raymond Santana all received their high school diplomas, having missed their own high school graduation ceremonies because they were incarcerated.

“When we went to prison, this was taken away from us,” Santana said at the ceremony. “It was something we never got to experience. You felt like you were being robbed, and we’ve finally found redemption.”

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Are The Central Park Five Innocent?

Daniel DjadanFollow Jun 4, 2019 · 7 min read

“When They See Us”: a semi-review

Inspired by true events

We know that the brutal rape of Trisha Meili, of which five adolescents, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise and Yusef Salaam were convicted, was in fact committed by serial rapist and murderer Marias Reyes, who confessed to attacking Meili on his own in 2002. But the question of whether they were part of a group of teenagers who attacked at least eight other people in Central Park that night is conspicuously underplayed in the popular narrative as presented in Ava DuVernay’s new series on Netflix. Rather than depict real events as they are, full of nuance, uncertainty and complexity, DuVernay portrays the boys as the very embodiment of innocence. On the other hand, as they ruthlessly destroy the lives of five scapegoats chosen almost at random, detectives and prosecutors are portrayed as not merely unscrupulous, callous, or overzealous, but positively evil.

Numerous questions surrounding the events of April 19th, 1989 remain unanswered. We will never know why upon being arrested two of the boys stated that they were innocent of “the murder” and pointed the finger at their friend Antron. Notably, this was before Trisha Meili had even been found. Or why Melonie Jackson, a sister of a friend of Korey Wise, voluntarily reported to the police that Wise had told her of his involvement in the rape. That fateful night in Central Park was like a scene out of A Clockwork Orange. Several people were chased, robbed and beaten. Two men were left unconscious and soaked in blood. As shown in the first episode, the five boys were part of a group of about thirty moving through the park. When the police arrived the swift of foot fled the scene and suspicion fell on those unfortunate enough to be seized. We will never know whether any one of The Central Park Five directly participated in the attacks, or whether, as the film depicts it, they simply followed the other boys, going somewhere, for some reason, late at night. The five were convicted (along with five other boys, now forgotten) of participating in the attacks, but when their innocence of the rape was proven conclusively all convictions were overturned.

What we do know is that Ava DuVarney’s tendentious retelling of the story is not only infuriatingly dishonest in intent, but also ridiculously clumsy in execution. We can only speculate about the rationale behind some of her choices as writer and director. We see the group of boys striding merrily through the park. Three white cyclists dash through the group as if expecting it to simply move out of their way. A racist microaggression? “Fight the Power” is playing in the background. In the next scene some of the boys witness unidentified black men beat up a white man. The victim is wearing a camouflage jacket and appears defiant. Were they blocking his way, or was he looking for a fight? And why does DuVarney feel the need to have someone say “bunch of white dudes jumped me in the Bronx last week. Payback’s a bitch”?

The entire chain of events between their arrest and the beginning of the interrogation is shown in a few brief scenes. A white police officer calls the 14 year old Richardson a “little animal” and bashes him with his helmet. Then they’re all at the police station, except for Antron. The film doesn’t examine the possibility that, when two of the boys said that Antron committed “the murder”, they were perhaps referring to one of the other assaults. Antron is shown hiding in the bushes. Instead, we see the blonde haired villainess Linda Fairstein, the head of the sex crime unit, coaxing one of the suspects into giving up Antron’s name and address. A clueless boy manipulated into betraying his friend. Their fates are sealed.

Sixteen minutes into the first episode we see Fairstein attaching sticky notes to a map: one for the rape, and five for other seemingly unrelated attacks. “All this is happening in the park and it’s not connected?” she says, and just like that it’s decided: “They’re not witnesses. They’re suspects.” We then follow the investigation as Fairstein continues to construct a narrative around the premise that the rape of Trisha Meili was part of a violent rampage by a roving band of young black men, who she repeatedly refers to as “animals”.

“I need the whole group,” Fairstein says. “Every young black male who was in the park last night is a suspect in the rape of that woman who is fighting for her life right now.” She appears to be driven by outrage at the rising number of rapes in the city. However, considering that Trisha Meili had no memory of the attack, it’s quite clear that we’re expected to arrive at a predetermined conclusion regarding Fairstein’s motivations. The entire thing is quite unconvincing. There were over 91,000 aggravated assaults in New York City that year. That’s at least 249 per day, but we’re expected to believe that investigators chose to tie the boys to the rape simply because half a dozen incidents occurred within the limits of one of the city’s crime hotspots? No. Rather, Just as Fairstein begins with the conclusion that the boys committed the crime and then builds the case from that, the audience is expected to follow circular reasoning which begins and ends with systemic racism.

The rush to convict the five boys may have been influenced by racial bias, but it was driven primarily by shock at the brutality of the crime and a largely justified hysteria over rising crime rates. There were over 5,000 rapes in New York City that year, over 2,000 murders, over 100,000 robberies. Donald Trump was not the only one thirsting for the blood of robbers and rapists. In the weeks after the attack a reporter for The Village Voice spoke to local residents who identified several of the suspects as belonging to “a group of sometimes violent neighborhood troublemakers”. Can we dismiss that as nothing but fake news pushed by New York City’s liberal media?

A New York Times review of the 2012 documentary about the Central Park Five suggested that the film would have told a better story if it hadn’t been so one-sided. This is all the more true of DuVarney’s morality play:

Because the one thing that it fails to do persuasively is explain why so many people in New York, including African-Americans and professional skeptics writing in left-leaning publications like The Village Voice, almost immediately accepted that the teenagers were guilty and believed the police, with whom these same skeptics had often been politically at odds.

In 1989 the media eagerly accepted the false narrative constructed by the police, which depicted the Central Park Five as monsters of cruelty. Judging by the uncritical reviews this series has received, little has changed since. But some reviewers have pointed out this show’s unusual approach to true crime stories. For example, Sophie Gilbert in The Atlantic:

DuVernay, who directed and co-wrote all four episodes, isn’t particularly interested in reinvestigating this case, or even in delving into the circumstances that led up to it. Her motivation, rather, is to delineate five individuals whose identities were erased and rewritten before they’d even had the chance to finish eighth grade. This is a work that wants viewers to see these people, and the fullness of their humanity, above everything else.

Fairness and accuracy are easily discarded in the pursuit of such a lofty goal as showing the fullness of someone’s humanity, but we mustn’t forget that humanity is capable of far greater cruelty than any other animal. The Washington Post also observed that the series “bluntly but successfully turns this story ­inside-out, borrowing the look of true-crime dramas while discarding the genre’s usual tropes.” Viewers who may be concerned with the victim (or rather, victims) are dismissed sarcastically: “You can absorb what “When They See Us” is trying to tell you, or you can retreat comfortably back to the open-shut templates of “Law & Order” reruns.”

In sum, the question of whether the Central Park Five are truly guilty or innocent can never be answered. DuVarney is guilty, however, of selling her moralistic narrative as a true story. It will be remembered for what it says about the dominant ideologies of 2019, not the events of 1989. No one who lived in New York City during that time could possibly believe the story it tells. It is, however, sure to incite rage among the young and impressionable.

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If you haven’t watched Ava DuVernay’s Netflix miniseries When They See Us, or Ken Burns’s documentary The Central Park Five, you need to. Go ahead, grab some tissues. I’ll wait.

We good? What you just saw was a story of how gross prosecutorial misconduct and racism can lead to wrongful convictions. The story, sadly, is not just about those boys but about black and brown boys everywhere, and the dangers they face at the hands of a racist criminal-justice system, every time they leave their houses.

There is enough villainy to go around: The police, the media, Donald Trump—lots of society’s moving parts intersect to bring injustice upon children of color. But a consistent tool deployed against black and brown youths is the prosecutor’s office. You just can’t miscarry justice without it.

In the films, Linda Fairstein comes off as one of the principal villains. She was head of the sex-crimes unit in the Manhattan district attorney’s office at the time of the attack on Trisha Meili, the woman long known as the “Central Park jogger.” It was on her watch that Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise, all 16 or under at the time, were rounded up. The boys were questioned without an attorney or parent present, tricked into false confessions, pre-tried in the court of public opinion, convicted, and sentenced for crimes they did not commit. She, as much as any single lawyer-type can be, is responsible for this legal travesty.

The Central Park Five were exonerated by DNA evidence in 2002 after convicted serial rapist Matias Reyes confessed to the crime. Reyes went on to assault and rape many other people after the Central Park attack, before he was finally caught.

In real life, Fairstein appears to be an even worse person than she is portrayed to be. You’d think Fairstein would be inconsolable, ashamed, or just plain embarrassed after learning that her actions not only put five innocent boys in jail but also allowed the real perpetrator to go on raping people for that much longer. But, no, she’s not humiliated—she is defiant.

This week, The Wall Street Journal gave her editorial space to attack the Central Park Five again. It’s so very on-brand for the Journal to allow a disgraced prosecutor to write a soliloquy against people of color. That’s the kind of news we need so we can determine whether to hang on to our “unrepentant white supremacy” stocks for another day.

In her op-ed, unmitigated scientific evidence that she prosecuted the wrong people does not stop Fairstein from insinuating the boys still had something to do with Meili’s rape. She starts: “At about 9 p.m. April 19, 1989, a large group of young men gathered on the corner of 110th Street and Fifth Avenue for the purpose of robbing and beating innocent people in Central Park. There were more than 30 rioters, and the woman known as the ‘Central Park jogger,’ Trisha Meili, was not their only victim. Eight others were attacked, including two men who were beaten so savagely that they required hospitalization for head injuries.”

Do you see what she did there? Let me slow it down so we can all experience this fetid example of opening drivel prosecutors regularly shovel at juries.

First, she put the Central Park Five with the group of “young men” just outside the park. She didn’t specifically invoke their names as part of the group of young men. She can’t, because she can’t prove that they were there. There’s no physical evidence putting any of those five boys outside the park among a “large gathering” at 9 pm. But we know she’s talking about the Central Park Five, because this is her first sentence in her op-ed, titled “Netflix’s False Story of the Central Park Five.” We’re not stupid, right? We’re all supposed to know who she’s talking about even though she doesn’t name them.

Then she ascribes a motive to the gathering: the “robbing and beating of innocent people.” She can’t prove that either. There were a series of attacks in the park that night, but, as we learned, she can’t prove that some large gathering of “young men” (mostly teens) formed a common purpose outside the park at 9 pm to conduct those attacks in an unprovoked fashion. Much has been written about the police misinterpretation of the boys’ use of the word “wilin’”—which was slang at the time for “hanging out”—with “wildin’”—which is a term made up by police that’s supposed to indicate a conspiracy to commit random acts of violence. But, remember, Fairstein can’t prove that the Central Park Five were part of the alleged rampaging groupthink, even if one existed.

Then she specifies her terms, changing “large group” to “more than 30” and “young men” to “rioters.” Are you frightened yet? She’s counting on you to misinterpret increased specificity as additional facts.

Then she gives them a victim. Note that the first and only named victim is Trisha Meili, who we know was not raped by the Central Park Five. Doesn’t matter. Even though we know she was not raped by the Central Park Five, we’re now told Meili was “not the only victim” of the Central Park Five, whom Fairstein can’t name because she can’t establish they were even there as part of the rioters. She’s written two sentences, by the way, and has already subtly re-accused the boys of crimes she knows they did not commit.

Then she ramps up the body count. Eight victims, savage beatings, hospitalizations, head trauma! Just who are these monsters (we’re supposed to think) who maybe didn’t technically rape a woman that evening, but beat up and terrorized an entire park? Were they the Central Park Five? No. Remember she has no idea where those five boys were while this was all going down; it’s a huge park, and the boys claimed they were just hanging out. She can’t prove that they were part of the group of rioters, can’t prove that they participated in the riots, has no physical evidence of them laying a hand on Meili, and can’t prove that they touched any of the other victims either. In fact, the only thing Linda Fairstein can prove about the Central Park Five is that they were nonwhite and in Central Park at some point on the night of April 19.

Fairstein engages in this literary sleight of hand throughout her op-ed. She points out that 15 teenagers were apprehended, among them members of the Central Park Five. She offers this as proof that they did something, when an arrest is not proof of anything. She seamlessly transitions from picking nits with DuVernay’s dramatization of the story, and then attacking the innocence of the real-life men. Investigative journalist David Heath has a great thread on Twitter knocking down every one of Fairstein’s unfair conjectures based on his encyclopedic knowledge of the case file.

This is what prosecutors do. This is how wrongful convictions happen. We watch courtroom dramas and listen to true-crime podcasts and we think a trial is about evidence, but they’re really about narrative. In this case, you know Fairstein has no evidence. You know that the people she’s talking about were actually exonerated. And yet, in one opening paragraph, Fairstein has tapped into that most familiar of tropes: Them black folks were guilty of something; they had it coming, for one reason or another.

Good prosecutors construct an argument. Good writers construct a narrative. Fairstein is neither. She’s just constructing a smear. She is attacking these men, again, trying to revictimize them after already trying to ruin their lives, and The Wall Street Journal is letting her do it in their pages.

In a courtroom, as the prosecutor, Fairstein would have to convince people that the Central Park Five were guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But in the Journal, she’s managed to invert her role. Now, she’s the one casting reasonable doubt on the innocence of the Central Park Five. She wants to make the exonerees the ones with the burden to prove their innocence.

Her theory is that the Central Park Five were part of a “pack” which participated in the attack on Meili and others, even if Reyes was the only one who physically participated in the rape. Her theory is wrong, but here’s the heart of her case in the op-ed:

Ms. DuVernay would have you believe the only evidence against the suspects was their allegedly forced confessions. That is not true. There is, for example, the African-American woman who testified at the trial—and again during the 2002 re-investigation—that when Korey Wise called her brother, he told her that he had held the jogger down and felt her breasts while others attacked her. There were blood stains and dirt on clothing of some of the five. And then there are the statements of more than a dozen of the other kids who participated in the park rampage. Although none of the others admitted joining in the rape of Trisha Meili, they admitted attacking male victims and a couple on a tandem bike, and each of them named some or all of the five as joining them.

This paragraph is a pile of garbage. The confessions weren’t “allegedly” forced, they were actually forced. We know that because of science. We know that because the real rapist, Reyes, says he acted alone, which lines up with the fact that he acted alone in his other rapes. We know that there’s no evidence Reyes knew any of the Central Park Five at the time of the attack, based on the 58-page motion to vacate the convictions of the Central Park Five filed by Fairstein’s boss in 2002. We know that any confessions to the contrary were fabricated. We know that the Central Park Five’s confessions contained inconsistencies with physical evidence of how the crime was committed, while Reyes’s confession included details unknown to the public. So, we know, and Fairstein knows, that her entire theory of the case that Meili was assaulted by a “pack” of boys which included the Central Park Five has been rejected by science, the real criminal, and her own prosecutor’s office.

And yet she resurfaces her phantasmagorical theory here.

Fairstein is full of it. She’s been full of it for 30 years. If The Wall Street Journal wanted to smear these guys again, they should have just let Donald Trump do it. At least that would have distracted him from ruining the rest of the country for a day.

I have no more questions for Linda Fairstein. It’s above me now. But I do have questions for New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, if Cuomo can pull himself away from laughing at Bill de Blasio’s presidential campaign long enough to look at other train wrecks. In March, the governor signed a bill creating a prosecutorial review board, empowered to review misconduct in the district attorney’s office and impose sanctions. Naturally, it’s being challenged by district attorneys.

The bill is a good first step, but until we see whether it has any teeth, it seems inadequate to deal with the problem. Linda Fairstein is not the only prosecutor to put innocent people behind bars. She wasn’t even the only prosecutor on this case. Elizabeth Lederer was the trial prosecutor who presided over this tragedy. She was every bit as complicit as Fairstein, and thus far has been every bit as unrepentant. She was quietly teaching at one of the best law schools in the country, Columbia Law School, until this week, when the shame of it all finally forced her and Columbia to part ways.

After leaving the prosecutor’s office, Fairstein became a crime novelist. I guess the Central Park Five case was good training for her in the art of making stuff up. Since the release of When They See Us, she’s been dropped by her publisher and removed from the board at Vassar.

But she’s not in jail. Lederer won’t be going there either. Documentaries and miniseries and state review boards are great for bringing about social shaming, but people like Fairstein will not truly pay for their crimes until we make what they did crimes.

Otherwise, they’ll keep doing it. Fairstein is, quite literally, continuing to try to prosecute the Central Park Five in the media. She used the legal system to destroy the lives of five people, and somehow that legal system still protects her from justice instead of protecting the Central Park Five from her or The Wall Street Journal.

A good-faith prosecutorial mistake is a tragedy. But what happened to the Central Park Five was not done out of an abundance of good faith. Fairstein’s continued attacks against them prove her lack of good faith. What she did to them, what she keeps doing to them, is not an accident. It is a crime.

In 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City finally settled with the Central Park Five, a group of teenagers who were convicted and later exonerated in connection with the rape and brutal assault on a jogger.

“They spent a lot of their lives in jail, in prison, wrongly,” de Blasio said at a news conference at that time. “We have an obligation to turn the page. We have an obligation to do something fair for them, for the whole city to turn the page and move forward.”

But the settlement remains a decision that Trisha Meili — the jogger in that horrific attack — says the city should not have made. And the police and prosecutors involved in the case agree.

Watch the full story on “20/20” Friday, May 24, at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

“I so wish the case hadn’t been settled,” Meili told ABC News’ “20/20” in January. “I wish that it had gone to court because there’s a lot of information that’s now being released that I’m seeing for the first time. I support the work of law enforcement and prosecutors. … They treated me with such dignity and respect.”

A group of teens take over Central Park

Meili always wanted to work in New York, and she loved Central Park. In April 1989 she was working as a banker at Salomon Brothers in New York City.

“It was a sense of accomplishment, and I was devoted to it,” she told ABC News’ “20/20.”

On the night of April 19, 1989, she worked until 8 p.m. and then headed to her home on the East Side. Moments after she had returned home, she was back outside, running toward Central Park. It was a routine she followed probably four to five days a week, she said.

But at the same time that she was headed out for her run, police were scrambling to respond to calls about 30 to 40 teens who were harassing people in the park.

“People were punched in the face and pulled off their bicycles and robbed of their watches. I mean, it was kind of a crazy series of incidents that took place in the park,” recalled former newspaper columnist Ken Auletta.

Meanwhile, Meili was continuing her nightly jog.

“I would run to the park, usually entering at the 84th Street entrance just by the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” she recalled. “I would go to the 102nd Street cross drive that would go from the East Drive of the park over the West Drive of the park.”

A little before midnight, her body was found by two men, in a ravine about 50 feet from the 102nd Street cross path.

“Trish Meili not conscious, barely, barely alive,” said Linda Fairstein, who was chief of the district attorney’s office at the time.

Meili, who had been raped and brutally beaten, was taken to a hospital. She had no memory of what happened.

“She had blunt trauma,” said surgeon Dr. Bob Kurtz, who treated Meili. “They didn’t know if she would survive. She looked like a little waif in the bed. No one knew who she was yet.”

Plastic surgeon Dr. Jane Haher told ABC News’ “20/20” that she’s never forgotten that day.

Meili’s left eye had been crushed in. The force of the blow to her face was so strong that her eyeball had exploded into the thin plates of her orbital floor, Haher said.

“I had several skull fractures and there were deep lacerations,” said Meili.

The police question five teens

While Meili was in the hospital, with doctors unsure if she would live or die, New York authorities were charging five teenagers who had been held in connection with the Central Park assaults with her attack. The teens — Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise and Antron McCray — eventually became known as the “Central Park Five.”

Prosecutors had no DNA and little evidence that matched the teenagers to the crime, the attack, or the scene. But each teenager — except for Salaam — had made statements or open confessions about Meili’s attack, implicating themselves or each other.

“Kevin Richardson had a scratch under his eye, so the detectives asked him, ‘How did you get the scratch under your eye?'” said former New York City detective Eric Reynolds. Richardson replied on the videotaped interrogation:

Richardson: I got in the way. She got kind of like scratched me a little bit.

Prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer: Let me just ask you, you’re saying that she scratched you and you’re indicating a place on your face?

Richardson: Yeh, I think it’s on me right here.

Meili was in a coma for about a week in the hospital before she finally opened her eyes.

“You had children, schoolchildren showing up and holding vigils outside,” said former reporter and professor Natalie Byfield. “Cardinal (John) O’Connor made a visit there. Frank Sinatra sent her flowers.”

Kurtz, the surgeon, said Meili “woke up and looked around and saw the flowers and said, you know, ‘Holy smoke. What’s going on? Why is Frank Sinatra sending me flowers?’”

Meili said she watched some of the videotapes of the teens’ statements and confessions.

“It is very, very hard watching someone describe how people beat me, how people were trying to stop my screaming by beating my face,” she said.

When the first trial began in August 1990 against Salaam, Santana and McCray, Meili agreed to testify. On the witness stand, she talked about what her normal running practices had been and what she had been wearing that night.

“I remember I was very nervous,” she said. “I thought, ‘I know I have no memory but I wanted people to know the condition that I had been in.'”

After 10 days of deliberations, Salaam, Santana and McCray, all 16 years old at the time, were convicted of rape, assault and robbery in the attack on Meili. After a separate trial, in December 1990, Wise was found guilty of sexual abuse, first degree assault and riot. Richardson was also found guilty on all charges.

McCray, Richardson, Santana and Salaam got five to 10 years in prison as juveniles. Wise was sentenced to five to 15 as an adult.

A serial rapist comes forward

With the trials over, Meili — believing her attackers were behind bars — ran the New York City Marathon in 1995.

“I felt so proud of the hard work that had gotten me there ’cause it was hard. I mean, I worked hard,” she told “20/20.” “And in that moment, I realized or I felt that I had reclaimed my park. … It was so exhilarating.”

In 2002, 13 years after the Central Park attack and with four of the Central Park Five out of prison, convicted serial rapist Matias Reyes came forward and said he was Meili’s sole attacker.

He had met Wise earlier when they were both at New York’s Rikers Island jail, and then later had seen him at a prison upstate. Reyes, who has doing 33 years to life for a murder-rape conviction, reached out to police, who were able to match his DNA to the DNA at the Central Park crime scene.

Reyes also knew some details about Meili and the crime that had never been released and that only the person who had been there could know. Reyes, who had been given the nickname “East Side Rapist” for a series of violent rapes along Madison Avenue in the spring and summer of 1989, had also attacked a woman in the park a few days prior to — and not far from — the April 19 attack on Meili.

“I always knew that there was at least one more person involved because there was unidentified DNA,” Meili said. “So when I heard the news that there was an additional person found whose DNA matched, that wasn’t a tremendous surprise. But when he said that he and he alone had done it, that’s when some of the turmoil started, wondering ‘Well, how can that be?'”

Meili and doctors Kurtz and Haher said there was medical evidence to support the charge that more than one person was responsible for her attack. Her injuries were different from what Reyes claimed as the sole attacker, Meili said.

“There were hand prints pressed into her skin that looked red in outline,” Kurtz said.

Haher said the hand prints were of different sizes as well.

“It looks like, to me, more than one person doing that,” Haher said.

The Central Park Five’s convictions are vacated

In 2002, District Attorney Robert Morgenthau withdrew all charges against the Central Park Five, and their convictions were vacated. Wise, who was still in prison at the time, was released early. The group sued in 2003 and after a decade-long standstill, the lawsuit was settled for $41 million. The city, however, did not admit to any misconduct by its police department or prosecutors.

“The five of them went to Central Park to beat up people and they ended up with millions of dollars and they’re heroes and civil rights icons,” Reynolds said. “It’s appalling.”

Meili now works with survivors of brain injuries, sexual assault, and other kinds of trauma.

“I believe they gain strength, too, to move forward,” she said.