Author Sarah Burns takes readers through the infamous 1989 Central Park Jogger case in The Central Park Five: The Untold Story Behind One of New York City's Most Infamous Crimes. Five young men, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, and Antron McCray, who came to be known as the Central Park Five, were all convicted of the rape of Trisha Meili. Over a decade later, the actual rapist, Matias Reyes, confessed, and the young men's convictions were overturned, but the case is still surrounded by controversy.
Burns's main agenda is to underline the racism that contributed to the arrest and conviction of the youths. She digresses into multiple historical accounts of lynchings; of innocent black men who were tortured and hanged after being accused of raping a white woman. They are sobering stories, but don't completely parallel what was believed at the time to be a gang rape of a young woman. Burns makes a good case for the police forcing confessions and not looking for an alternate suspect, but considering the multiple related crimes perpetrated by the kids that evening, and the severity of Meili's injuries, their tunnel vision, while unjust, is understandable. "The detectives who interrogated them," the author argues, "believed that they were guilty from the start, and the legal–if questionable–tactics used by those detectives to extract the confessions, along with other subterfuges that probably crossed the line, caused a series of reactions in all the young men, and sometimes their families, which eventually led to coerced confessions."
But not just the police were bent on painting the boys as guilty before they had even been tried. "... Media coverage also employed blatantly racist language and imagery," Burns points out. "Animal references abound. When referring to the suspects, the words Wolfpack and Wilding were used hundreds of times and came to be emblems of the case, a shorthand that nearly everyone used and that still elicits memories of the Central Park Jogger's rape in many minds."