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Racism Railroaded Justice in Jogger Rape Case


Now that new evidence casts doubt on the guilt of the five Harlem men serving time for the rape and beating of the Central Park jogger in 1989, the case is looking like a horrible repetition of this country’s racist history concerning sex crimes.

These men have spent about 10-13 years in prison for a crime that convicted rapist and murderer Matias Reyes now says he committed alone. New DNA evidence backs him up, and new police interrogations indicate that none of the men has ever seen Reyes. It looks like a bad day for justice in New York.

From the start, this case bore an uncanny resemblance to earlier incidents of black men unjustly accused of and sometimes lynched for raping white women. Take the Scottsboro Boys in 1931.

Two unemployed white women were riding a freight train, hobo style, to Chattanooga, TN, along with many other youths, black and white. A fight broke out and the white men were forced off the train. When news of the fight reached the next town, in Alabama, along with the knowledge that white women were aboard, a posse of 75 white men formed, already talking of rape. The minute the train arrived, nine of the black youths, aged 13-20, were arrested. The women tried to flee but were cornered and questioned by the posse. Pressed to say if they had been raped, one said yes, the other no.

The women were jailed on vagrancy and prostitution charges, where they were relentlessly questioned. The nine youths only escaped lynching by being arrested. After a three day trial, eight of them were sentenced to death for the alleged rape by an all white, male jury. After years of trials, none was executed.

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This essay was published in Newsday, Viewpoint, 10/23/02, p.36.

Additional essays by Helen Benedict can be found at featurewell.com When you reach the site, just type "Helen Benedict" in the Advanced Search window. All essays are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without permission.