A New Gate in Central Park

Three of the exonerated: Kevin Richardson (left), Yusef Salaam (center), and Raymond Santana (right) celebrate the new gate.

Central Park is a beautiful and peaceful park in the middle of New York City. It is surrounded by a low stone wall with many entryways—called gates—where people can enter the park. These gates are not ordinary gates; they don’t open and close, and they have names. Why do the gates have names, and what do the names mean? 

The park’s designers wanted simple entryways that would make everyone feel welcome. The names of the original eighteen gates were chosen in 1862 during the planning of the park. Some of the gates were named to honor the professions of those who had helped create New York City and people who visited the park, such as the Artisans’ Gate and Children’s Gate. The Strangers’ Gate welcomed immigrants and people visiting from other places.

In 2022, a new gate was named for the first time. The new gate is called the Gate of the Exonerated. Exonerated means to admit that someone is not guilty. The Gate of the Exonerated honors all the innocent people who have been wrongly convicted. It especially honors five Black youths who came to be known as the Central Park Five. Later, they became Exonerated Five.  

One night in April 1989, the police received reports of people being attacked in Central Park. They discovered a White woman lying next to a path. She had been jogging and was attacked so badly she was almost dead. The police rounded up twenty teenagers who were in the park. After hours of questioning, most of them were released. Five were not. The Central Park Five told the police they had not attacked the woman. The police didn’t believe them. They told them that they could go home if they confessed. Tired and frightened, the Central Park Five told the police what they wanted to hear. Instead of letting them go home, the police arrested them. The media and public opinion were against the Central Park Five. They were convicted and sent to prison for many years. 

In 2002, another man confessed to the crime. A judge exonerated the Central Park Five. The youths were now men. Only the oldest one, who got the longest sentence, was still in prison. He was immediately released. Today, the men are known as the Exonerated Five. On December 19, 2022, the twentieth anniversary of the exoneration, three of the men unveiled the new gate. Their families, friends, and community came to watch.

One of the men, Raymond Santana, said, “I never reentered Central Park because of what happened to me and my fellow members of the Exonerated Five. Even when my daughter was born, there were moments I wanted to take her because of the beautiful playgrounds for the children, but I couldn’t bring myself to enter. Now that my daughter is an adult, it’s time for us to go to Central Park, see the Gate of the Exonerated, and once again be a part of the park community.” 

What Do You Think? What do you think should be done for people who are falsely accused of a crime?

Photo Credit: McGraw Hill