Cause and Effect Essay: Central Park Five

640 words | 3 page(s)

The Central Park Five case, as described in Ken Burns’ documentary, is an examination of how the justice system can sometimes fail. The case involved a jogger in New York’s Central Park who was assaulted in brutal fashion and left for dead. The subsequent investigation led to the arrest of five youths, four who were African-American and one who was Hispanic. The five youths were ultimately convicted for the crime. After serving their sentences and being released, a confession from an already convicted serial rapist along with corroborating evidence that he acted alone indicated that the five youths had been falsely arrested and imprisoned. The documentary explores how the justice system failed in this regard.

The first reason implied in the documentary is the random and brutal nature of the attack, which created a public outcry. Although the victim survived, she suffered severe injuries that left her near death, including the loss of an eye. The victim was also an innocent who was jogging in the park, and the attack was randomly perpetrated. This led to widespread public demand for the perpetrators to be caught, which pressured the police department to act quickly and make an arrest.

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The second cause is that the youths who were ultimately imprisoned were associated with gang activity. The evening of the attack, other crimes throughout Central Park were committed by various gang members, including numerous assaults. The boys who were arrested are presumed to have been at least present in the park at this time, and their involvement with gangs increased the plausibility that they had committed the crime.

A third reason is that the boys ended up confessing to the crime, although admitting only varying degrees of culpability. This is perhaps the most incriminating aspect of the case, although its influence on jurors remains speculative as one juror states that physical evidence, not the admissions of involvement were responsible for the verdict. However, the reason the confessions are controversial is because according to the film, the confessions were coerced through various threats and means. One boy with a learning disability is presumed to have been unable to understand the line of questioning given to him by investigators, while others are theorized to have been telling the investigators simply what they seemed to want to hear. Nevertheless, the confessions as presented to the jury would certainly incriminate the boys making these confessions, which would explain the verdict reached in the trial although it does not excuse the initial false arrest.

A final reason is the lack of another viable suspect or explanation for the attack. The boys were effectively placed at the scene of the crime, and their motivation for being at the park was to engage in gang-related activity. No other suspects were considered. The admission from another individual who presented an exact account of the attack, corroborating his claim, did not come until many years later. At the time, this person was not considered a suspect, nor was any other individual. The confessions from the boys only seemed to strengthen this theory, which resulted in the conviction.

The tragedy of the Central Park Five case is that it shows how the justice system can fail. The boys who were convicted eventually had their sentences vacated, but only after serving years falsely imprisoned. The documentary portrays the boys as entirely victims, although their involvement in gang activity at the time complicates their exact culpability. The documentary implies that the arrest was the result of public pressure and racial biases against the suspects once their identities became known; the city was looking to make a quick arrest, charged the most likely suspects despite having solid evidence, falsely extracted confessions and sent the boys to jail. Thus, the film overall shows how the desire to deliver justice quickly can occasionally create injustices of its own.

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