Synopses & Reviews
A riveting, in-depth account of one of New York City's most notorious crimes.
On April 20, 1989, the body of a woman is discovered in Central Park, her skull so badly smashed that nearly 80 percent of her blood has spilled onto the ground. Within days, five black and Latino teenagers confess to her rape and beating. In a city where urban crime is at a high and violence is frequent, the ensuing media frenzy and hysterical public reaction is extraordinary. The young men are tried as adults and convicted of rape, despite the fact that the teens quickly recant their inconsistent and inaccurate confessions and that no DNA tests or eyewitness accounts tie any of them to the victim. They serve their complete sentences before another man, serial rapist Matias Reyes, confesses to the crime and is connected to it by DNA testing.
Intertwining the stories of these five young men, the police officers, the district attorneys, the victim, and Matias Reyes, Sarah Burns unravels the forces that made both the crime and its prosecution possible. Most dramatically, she gives us a portrait of a city already beset by violence and deepening rifts between races and classes, whose law enforcement, government, social institutions, and media were undermining the very rights of the individuals they were designed to safeguard and protect.
"Everyone in New York City (and likely beyond) is familiar with the beginning of the story of the 'Central Park Jogger,' a white woman who was raped and left for dead in 1989. What happened next, though, is far less well known, making this powerful book feel especially necessary as it answers the question ('whatever happened to those kids?') that became as troubling as the horrific event itself. In her first book, Burns bravely revisits the details of that night, along with the months and years that followed. Weaving together extensive interviews with the teenage boys (now men) initially convicted and their families, while simultaneously providing extensive cultural context, Burns examines the forces that ultimately obliterated any genuine or humane attempt to uncover the truth. Astoundingly, despite such methodical research, no mention is made of Joan Didion's seminal 1991 essay, 'Sentimental Journeys,' which originally articulated most (if not all) of these same challenges to the city's psyche. However, Burns deserves credit for bringing the injustice these young men endured to light in the 21st century. As she draws attention to Mayor Bloomberg's recent mention of 'wilding,' it's clear that the city's narrative continues to ignore the poor until someone is needed to blame. A documentary with Burns's father, Ken, is in the works.
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“This is a controversial and important book, presenting a powerful argument that the minority youths who are convicted of raping and nearly murdering “the Central Park Jogger” were innocent of that crime (though not necessarily of other violent crimes committed in Central Park that night). It demonstrates that our justice system is far from full proof even in the face of alleged confession, eyewitness and forensic evidence. Were these false convictions based on understandable mistakes? Or were they based on racial stereotyping? Read this fine book and make up your own mind.” Alan M. Dershowitz, author of The Trials of Zion
“Gripping from start to finish, The Central Park Five is an unvarnished look at one of the most infamous crimes in New York City history. You may think you know the true story of the Central Park jogger, but you don’t. Sarah Burns tells a harrowing story, in which her only allegiance is to the truth.” Kevin Baker, author of Dreamland
“Remarkable...Straightforward, thought-provoking reportage.” Booklist
“Measured, riveting...The Central Park Five is an important book.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer
"The story of the woman who was brutally raped on April 19, 1989, and who would come to be known as the Central Park jogger, is a horrifying one. But Sarah Burns' The Central Park Five: A Chronicle of a City Wilding
is not about the heartbreaking assault and subsequent heroic recovery of Patricia Meili, the white, 28-year-old victim of the notorious crime. It is the story of the five African-American teens who were convicted of her rape, sentenced and imprisoned, only to have those convictions vacated 13 years later." Jessica Ferri, NPR
(Read the entire NPR review
About the Author
Sarah Burns graduated from Yale University in 2004 with a degree in American studies and went on to work for Moore & Goodman, a small civil rights law firm based in New York. She is now producing a documentary film with Ken Burns based on this book. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.