Jeff Wells over at dragged out an old interview with the Central Park Jogger and Oprah in order to prove his point, that he’s been making since Telluride, that the jogger is somehow at fault for choosing to jog in Central Park (on the upper east side, I might add) after dark.

But at the same time let’s not go overboard with praise for The Central Park Five, which I don’t feel is honest and inquisitive enough to warrant Oscar consideration. Its heart is in the right place, but its embrace of a rotely compassionate liberal approach to the facts is, in my view, overly emphatic as it either ignores or fails to sufficiently explore certain points. A real-deal doc exposes all the facts of a given situation as much as possible, warts and all & let the chips fall. By my sights The Central Park Fivedoesn’t do this. Instead it pushes an argument against the wrongness of the city’s prosecution of the five youths (which we all agree with) and offers a pat, incomplete portrait of the five as well as the 1989 rape victim, Trisha Meili.

His point dissolved quickly, though, when you look carefully at the case. The rapist, that the negligent DA and law enforcement overlooked, was a crazed psycho who went after women all over the upper east side, not just in Central Park. Moreover, he could have attacked the jogger in her own neighborhood, in her parking garage or even her apartment. His rampage:

Matias Reyes was 17 when he embarked on a string of rapes on the upper East Side. Here are the crimes he was convicted of or linked to: Sept. 21, 1988 – Attacked woman in stairwell of church at 90th St. and Fifth Ave.

April 17, 1989 – Raped and beat a woman in Central Park near E. 107th St.

April 19 – Raped and beat 28-year-old Central Park jogger.

June 11 – Raped, stabbed and tried to blind a 24-year-old woman in her E. 116th St. apartment.

June 14 – Raped and fatally stabbed 24-year-old Lourdes Gonzales with three children in her apartment on E. 97th St.

July 19 – Tied up, raped and stabbed 20-year-old woman and stole her ATM card at 95th St. and Madison Ave.

July 27 – Was interrupted while beating and robbing 28-year-old woman at 95th St. and Lexington Ave.

Aug. 5 – Arrested after raping 24-year-old woman in her E. 91st St. apartment.

So you see, you merely had to be a woman living on the Upper East Side to have been one of his victims. She no more increased her chances jogging at night in Central Park than she would have going to the ATM machine or coming home to her apartment. The victim is not at fault here; law enforcement and city government are. People should have been warned about this rapist so that they could better protect themselves. But they weren’t. Why weren’t they? Because the story of the “wilding teens” was too sexy to ignore.  Whether the victim feels guilt or shame or not, whether Oprah asked her that question or not does not change the facts in the case.

Wells second complaint about the film is that it doesn’t appropriately nail the “wilding teens,” the young men who caught and blamed for the crimes then forced to confess. Wells contends that they weren’t “innocent” but were still “bad.” He thinks the documentary is supposed to adequately shame them for the other crimes they committed.  Some of those crimes they were prosecuted for but their sentences, and their whole lives from then on, were mismanaged by an incompetent court. The point of the film isn’t to pass judgment or make you feel one way or the other – it is to look carefully at how this case was bungled, how the teens were forced to confess without a parent present, and how the press and the DA and the police did nothing to catch the real killer. Not only should the wrongly accused men sue, but so should the families of the victims of the real killer.

Also worth noting: Reyes life was horrible.  Preventing crime in the first place means watching out for kids like this who turn into monsters.

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  • Tony

    I feel sorry for any victim of any crime, but we should all try to take reasonable measures to minimize the chance of becoming a crime victim. One has the right to leave one’s wallet or purse on the car seat with the windows rolled down, but doing that isn’t wise.

  • steve50

    The victim should NEVER be blamed for a crime. The perpetrator, sure, along with whatever conditions may have triggered the action, but never the victim.

    If we conclude that this victim was partially to blame because she was jogging, then we have to implicate the shooting victims in Aurora for being present at the site at the time of the shooting. Not equating them means we’re making a value judgement on victims, meaning some crimes may even have been earned. And that’s nonsense.

    Same for casting shame on the “wilding teens”. Should the same veil be thrown over every “crazy” or even every gun owner within 10 miles of that theater? I can hear the outcry now.

  • Seisgrados

    Sasha, I know you’ve had issues with Jeff for recent events, but you’re not fair saying Wells thought “that the jogger is somehow at fault for choosing to jog in Central Park”. I read his post and he complaints that nobody brought that up in the doc. Or the fact that many people had questioned her about it and maybe thought her nuts.
    I’m horrified about any “blame the victim” arguments but I’d like the doc to address that, even if it is to censure Oprah for asking it.

  • Amanda

    I agree that NYC residents should have been warned about the psycho on the loose to be better prepared, but the way you brought that up makes it sound like if the jogger had been warned or had prepared and had still gotten raped, THEN it would be her fault. A rape is never the victim’s fault. I assume you didn’t mean that, but that’s how it reads.

  • arjay

    These sorts of arguments often seem to struggle with complex casuality. Many of the people who died during Hurricane Sandy did so because they made a bad decision somewhere along the line. But if there had been storm there would have been no victim.

    The question of whether the victim was sensible to go running in Central Park is a legitimate one in certain contexts. However, it was not really legitimate in the court case because the court is only interested in what the accused did or didn’t do. The poor judgment of the victim isn’t a mitigating circumstance in the judgment of their behaviour.

    Now, if the movie is just about the court case, then they can ignore Jeff’s question. If the film were about the victim, then the question may be relevent, because it maybe a question that the victim themselves has wrestled with. I haven’t seen it, so I’m not sure what the scope of the film is.

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