Two Members of the ‘Exonerated Five’ to Speak at Duke Sept. 2

The event is sold out

Two members of the Exonerated Five, formerly known as the Central Park Five, will speak at Duke University on Monday, Sept. 2, in Page Auditorium. The event, free and open to the public, is sold out.

The 7 p.m. event, “Now They Hear Us: Living Without Regret and Inspiring Future Generations,” will feature Yusef Salaam and Raymond Santana in conversation with professor Mark Anthony Neal, chair of Duke’s Department of African & African American Studies.

Parking is available in the Bryan Center Parking Garage for a fee of $5 per vehicle, cash only. The event is sponsored by the Department of African & African American Studies and Duke Law School.

The following day, Tuesday, Sept. 3, Salaam and Santana will participate in a 12:30 p.m. panel discussion at Duke Law School, Room 3041, which is also free and open to the public. Tickets are not needed to attend. Professor James Coleman, co-director of the law school’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic, will provide introductions and law professor Brandon Garrett, a leading scholar of criminal procedure, scientific evidence and wrongful convictions, will interview them about their experience in the criminal justice system.

Visitor parking is available in the Science Drive lot.

“Mr. Salaam and Mr. Santana are powerful speakers with a remarkable story to tell. Their arrest and conviction was used nationally to characterize black youths as increasingly dangerous criminals, yet it was a flawed criminal justice system that terrorized these innocent young men,” said Jamie Lau, a clinical professor of law and the supervising attorney for Duke’s Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility.

“Their story is a cautionary tale for any aspiring or practicing lawyer, as our justice system fails to function properly when criminal charges and prosecutions are brought in haste, when we fail to recognize and mitigate against our own biases, and when we take shortcuts rather than fastidiously searching for the truth,” he said.

Many are already familiar with the story of Salaam, Santana and the three others -- Korey Wise, Antron McCray and Kevin Richardson.

As boys, they were tried and convicted for the brutal 1989 attack of a young woman jogging in New York City’s Central Park. In 2002, a convicted murderer and serial rapist, linked to the case by DNA evidence, confessed to the crime, exonerating the five men. By the time the court vacated their sentences, withdrew all charges and removed them from the sex offender registry, they had each served between five and 13 years in prison.

Santana, who served five years before he was exonerated, is an activist, producer, fashion designer and founder of Park Madison NYC. Salaam, wrongfully convicted at age 15, is now a motivational speaker and advocate who addresses disparities in America’s criminal justice system. He serves on the board of The Campaign to End the Death Penalty, and in 2016 received a Lifetime Achievement Award from President Obama.

Documentarians Ken and Sarah Burns raised awareness of their case in the 2012 documentary, “The Central Park Five,” which told the story from the perspective of the five men. Filmmaker Ava DuVernay produced a four-part Netflix miniseries, “When They See Us,” that was released earlier this year to critical acclaim. DuVernay dubbed them the Exonerated Five to better reflect their status and reclaim their humanity.

“The case highlights the urgency needed to address the many fault lines that exist in our criminal justice system and in the newsrooms and courts of popular opinion across the nation,” Neal said. “That Mr. Santana and Mr. Salaam, along with their peers, have been given this rarest opportunity to see some semblance of justice, years after the fact, and are brave enough to share the deep trauma that they are still attempting to transcend, should be inspiration to all.”

Co-sponsors are the Office of Black Church Studies, the Center for Muslim Life, the Dean of the Social Sciences, Duke Student Affairs, Duke Chapel, the Forum for Scholars and Publics, the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, the Office of Faculty Advancement and Trinity College of Arts & Sciences.