Harlem park entrance dedicated to the exonerated ‘Central Park 5’


New York City on Monday honored five men dubbed the “Central Park Five” by dedicating an entrance to the park in their honor.

Officials named “The Gate of the Exonerated,” located on 110th Street at the park’s northeast corner in Harlem, 20 years to the day after the five Black and Latino men were wrongfully convicted of rape and later exonerated using DNA evidence. Each had served between six and 12 years in prison.

The men – all teenagers at the time – were arrested in 1989 in connection with the rape and assault of a white female jogger. The police coerced their confessions and their subsequent wrongful convictions became ominous symbols of a legal system stacked against poor people and people of color.

Yusef Salaam was at the gate dedication. He was 15 years old when he was arrested, and served almost seven years in prison.

“The truth of the matter is that there are many, many cases like ours,” he told Gothamist. “People need to understand because of that, they can say to themselves, how can we begin to dismantle and correct the mistakes of the past so that we can move into the future as a healed nation?”

Yusef Salaam at Monday’s ceremony.

Reece T. Williams/Gothamist

The 20 original entrances to Central Park were named in 1860 for groups of people that the park would belong to, such as the “Merchant’s Gate,” the “Women’s Gate,” and the “Strangers’ Gate,” which is named for immigrants who contributed to the city’s development. Monday’s ceremony, however, marked the first time the city is naming an entrance that wasn’t part of the original design.

The effort to rename the gate began three years ago, when Yusef’s mother, Sharonne Salaam, began pushing for a public monument to honor her son and other exonerees. For years, she said, Black and Latino kids from Harlem were warned by their community not to enter the park for fear of being wrongfully accused of crimes. She said the new entrance will serve as a visual sign to those same children that they are welcome.

Sharonne Salaam, Yusef’s mother, speaks before the crowd on Monday.

Reece T. Williams/Gothamist

“This hopefully will be at some moment a healing for all of us because our families went through a big amount of hell,” she said. “The community went through hell. It wasn’t an easy process.”

Raymond Santana, one of the men now known as the “Exonerated Five,” had a daughter two years after he was cleared. She’s now 18.

He said he never brought her to the park when she was little. Now, the gate will help her understand why.

“I had to apologize for never bringing her, so it’s a sentimental moment for me,” Santana said.

The new “Gate of the Exonerated” at Central Park.

Reece T. Williams/Gothamist


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