This Day in History

April 19, 1989: Central Park Five Arrested

Time Periods: Post-Civil Rights Era: 1975 - 2000
Themes: African American, Criminal Justice & Incarceration

The five defendants, behind the table, in court in 1990. Source: James Estrin/The New York Times

On April 19, 1989, the New York Police accused and arrested four African American teenagers and one Latino teenager for the brutal rape of a white woman. The trial of the Central Park Five — in the courts and in the media — became one of the most famous of the 20th century.

As with the Scottsboro Nine and countless other cases, racism carried more weight than the evidence and any hope of a fair trial for the five defendants. Donald Trump took out full-page advertisements in all four of the city’s major newspapers calling for their execution.

The young men — Yusef Salaam, 16, Antron McCray, 16, Korey Wise, 18, Kevin Richardson, 16, and Raymond Santana, 15 — spent between 6 and 13 years in prison. They were only exonerated and released after Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and serial rapist in prison, confessed to the crime. DNA evidence confirmed his guilt.

Ava DuVernay produced a dramatic mini-series about the Central Park Five called “When They See Us” that streams on Netflix.