The following post was written by Natalie Byfield, an author, journalist and professor of sociology at St. John’s University in Queens. It originally appeared on the Huffington Post, under the title of “The Central Park Jogger Case Is Settled for $40 Million, But What About Justice for Other Black and Latino Teens?”
By: Natalie Byfield
“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.” –Theodore Parker, abolitionist
Debate amongst individuals and those in the media about the necessity and adequacy of the recently reported $40 million proposed settlement of the wrongful conviction lawsuit brought by the men known as the Central Park Five may go on for quite some time. Many people — me included — wax philosophically about the impossibility of returning the lost time and lost youth to the black and Latino men who were between the ages of 14 and 16 years when they were falsely arrested for the April 1989 rape of the white, female jogger in Central Park. Notable in the press reports is the fact that the settlement of approximately $1 million per year for each year served by Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise, is historic in proportion, among the highest ever arrived at in a wrongful conviction case. All this is our conscience engaging us, encouraging us to check and measure whether or not New York City got it this right this time. Rev. Theodore Parker, quoted in the epigraph above, would likely describe this urge as an ideal that people have — the desire to achieve justice.
For many, the proposed settlement reflects justice. If that’s so, it would mean that in the instance of the Central Park Five, the arc of the moral universe had run its course and had indeed bent toward justice. For all my joy and relief that the settlement is basically a fait accompli, I am wrestling with some other thoughts and feelings. I am tremendously happy for the exonerated men and their families. But, the circumstances of their lives — their racial categories and lack of wealth — and police and prosecutorial practices that made them easy prey 25 years ago still make a tremendous difference in life outcomes today. Those things do make me wonder about the workings of our moral universe. Many poor, black and Latino juveniles still feel the impact of the super-predators laws that spread across the nation in the wake of the jogger case. The equating of blacks/Latino youth and criminality spawned a mentality within our policing agencies that feeds the system of mass incarceration. So, for me, in this case, the arc of the moral universe encompasses more than the men involved; and thus it is longer even than the 25 years it took for the exonerate men to get this measure of reparation or justice.
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