On November 14th, I attended the Raymond Santana talk, a member of the Central Park 5, now known as the Exonerated 5. Walking into the Lily Gallery, I saw a room packed with people ready and willing to hear his story. He began by recounting his experience on that night. He recalls going about his day normally, having never encountered the women he was accused of raping. He was only a young man at the time, wanting nothing more than to live his life and go about his day to day.
When the police found the victim, she had no recollection of the assault, and the police quickly focused their efforts on black and brown men in the area. They apprehended 14 suspects and arrested 5 boys (Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise) and instantly took them to the station for interrogation. There they were held for over 30 hours of interrogation. There were no eyewitnesses to the assault, and the physical evidence did not match any of their DNA samples, that alone proves that they have no association with the crime. However, the police officers and detectives interrogating Santana and the other young men used the Reid Technique, a way to coerce a suspect into a confession, whether true or false. It is a form of psychological manipulation used to confuse and disturb the suspect and is highly looked down upon today, however, is still used by some departments. The police found this method easy to execute on young men who had no awareness of these tactics nor had much knowledge of their legal rights. Santana posed the question to us too. If he knew that he had not assaulted the women, how could he have confessed to doing it? He goes on to say the fear and intimidation the interrogators direct at you is enough to make you believe that you had committed the act. To imagine a young teenager sitting in a interrogation room with nothing but officers intimidating you, no family, no one to help you, it is the scariest thing for anyone to experience. I have had the opportunity to learn about this technique from other cases I have researched, but to hear a firsthand account puts it into perspective.
Santana then tells of his exoneration and the rapist coming forward to admit to his crimes. Santana and the 4 other men faced great backlash even after release. The media refused to believe their truth, and the government refused to hear their calls for justice. It was the whole world against them. No one seemed to believe their innocence, no matter how much evidence pointed to their innocence. People feared that the justice system had released criminals back into their midst. These people’s judgment had been greatly clouded by media influence. Every journalist published their names as criminals, using sensationalizing terms such as “wolf pack” and “wilding” to portray these boys as animals rather than people deserving humane treatment. With both the national media and the justice system against you, there seemed to be no end to the pain and suffering they had endured.
Santana now uses his platform to educate people around the United States about the injustice of the US justice system and the industrial prison complex. He advocates for greater reform and the use of fair treatment. When one student asked what we could do to help, even in the smallest of ways, Santana comments that just by being at this talk, we have educated ourselves and been present to witness. His mission is to spread his story and the stories of others in hopes of inspiring change for the generations to come.