By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Oklahoma Christian University’s annual Black History Month event, History Speaks will feature Raymond Santana, one of the wrongfully convicted ‘Central Park Five’ now known as the ‘Exonerated Five’ on Monday, February 3.
The Raymond Santana History Speaks event will take place from 7 – 9 p.m., at Baugh Auditorium, 2501 E Memorial Road. on the Oklahoma Christian University campus in Edmond.
In its sixth year, the popular History Speaks lecture series is known for bringing in the most influential voices for civil rights, like Raymond Santana.
On the night of April 19, 1989, a 28-year-old female jogger was brutally attacked and raped in New York City’s Central Park. She was found unconscious with severe, life-threatening injuries. When she recovered, she had no memory of the assault.
Initial police investigations quickly focused on a group of African American and Latino youths who were in police custody for a series of other attacks perpetrated in the park that night.
The defendants, five boys between 14 and 16 years of age, were convicted and became known collectively as the ‘Central Park Five.’
After the teens served out their sentences, Matias Reyes came forward to claim sole responsibility for the attack. A convicted serial rapist and murderer serving a minimum 33-year sentence, Reyes’ DNA and confession matched evidence.
The Central Park Five were finally exonerated in 2002.
Santana had spent five years in prison and more than a decade as an outcast for a crime he did not commit.
The investigation of the convictions of the five teenagers has raised questions regarding police coercion and false confessions, as well as, the vulnerability of juveniles during police interrogations.
After his exoneration, Santana became a vocal advocate for criminal justice reform and often speaks on the topic.
A tweet from Santana to award-winning director Ava DuVernay led to the dramatization of the Central Park Five story in the popular Netflix original series, “When They See Us.” The four-part series not only became one of Netflix’s most-watched shows. The series also earned a total of 16 Emmy nominations, the most ever captured by Netflix.
Last June, Julie Jacobs reported for the New York Times, “After the mini-series was released…, there was immediate backlash against Linda Fairstein, who ran the sex crimes division of the district attorney’s office at the time of the case. Ms. Fairstein was portrayed as the driving force behind the prosecution, ignoring evidence that did not validate her belief that the boys were guilty.”
Jacobs added that Fairstein, who had become a successful crime novelist, was dropped by her publisher and later resigned from the boards of several organizations, including Vassar College, her alma mater
Oprah interviewed the ‘Exonerated Five’ during an hour-long special, Oprah Winfrey Presents When They See Us Now, which aired last June and award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns produced Central Park Five, a special for PBS, that premiered in 2012.
Two years after collecting a $41 million wrongful conviction payout from New York City, the group received another $3.9 million in a 2016 settlement with the state. The state Court of Claims payout covered the economic and emotional devastation caused by the incarceration of the five men, who were just teens when they began serving between six and 13 years in prison.
“I understand people say it’s a lot of money. The reality is there’s no amount of money that would adequately compensate them,” said Jonathan Moore, one of the group’s attorneys in both settlements. “They’ve suffered every day since 1989 and they’re still suffering.”
History Speaks is an annual civil rights lecture hosted by Oklahoma Christian University as a part of the institution’s commitment to engage students and the community with complex dialogue.
Past History Speaks lecturers include Bryan Stevenson, Ambassador Andrew Young, Wheeler Parker, Jr., Diane Nash, Olympic medalists John Carlos and Tommie Smith, Carlotta Walls LaNier and Terrence Roberts of the Little Rock Nine, and Claudette Colvin and Fred Gray.
The Raymond Santana event is free, but tickets are required and typically sell out quickly. Tickets can be reserved at OC.edu/historyspeaks.