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A New York City teacher says she was fired for teaching her students about the Central Park Five

(JEFFERSON SIEGEL/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)


Andrew Z. Giacalone

A New York City high school teacher maintains she was fired for including lessons about the wrongfully convicted quintet known as the

Central Park Five

in her curriculum, according to a report in the

New York Daily News

.

Jenna Lee-Walker, a former English teacher at the High School for Arts, Imagination and Inquiry located in New York City’s Upper West Side, said her supervisors at the school “urged” her to adopt a more “balanced” approach in dealing with the infamous case for fear of causing “little ‘riots’” among the schools’ black pupils.

On the night of April 19, 1989, 28-year-old jogger Trisha Meili was brutally attacked and raped in Central Park. She was found unconscious. When she recovered, she had no memory of the assault. Initial police investigations quickly focused on a group of African American and Latino youths who were in police custody for a series of other attacks perpetrated in the park that night

The Central Park jogger case, as it would soon be called, inflamed public sentiment throughout New York City, fueled, in part, by the violent nature of the attack, festering racial tensions and fears spurred by the city’s peaking crime rate. It also resulted in the wrongful convictions of five teenagers –

Yusef Salaam

,

Kevin Richardson

,

Antron McCray

,

Raymond Santana

and

Korey Wise

– who falsely confessed to having perpetrated the crime. On December 19, 2002, the convictions of the five men were overturned based on DNA evidence proving that the crime was committed by Matias Reyes who admitted to police that he had acted alone.

Speaking to the New York daily, Lee-Walker explained that the story of the case was “not only engaging but important” for her students as most of them came from the same neighborhood as the Central Park Five. Nevertheless, she added, she remained “stunned” by the request from her supervisors to “soften her approach.”

“I was kind of like, the facts are the facts. This is what happened,” she explained. “How can you say that in a more balanced way?”

Lee-Walker was ultimately fired from her teaching position in May 2015 and has since “filed suit in Manhattan Federal Court, and named the Department of Education and several school administrators as defendants,” according to the Daily News.  

The news story notes that Lee-Walker did not specify damages in her suit while the city law department has declined to comment on the litigation.

The story of the Central Park Five has been the subject of several books and a

PBS documentary

by Ken Burns, David McMahon and Sarah Burns.  Members of the Central Park Five have also spoken to audiences throughout the nation about their wrongful conviction. 

1 Comment

  1. And suddenly highly relevant again, as current (6/26/16) presumptive Publican nominee for the Presidency Donald J Trumpf decided to insert himself into the case at the time, by taking out a full-page ad in one of the city’s papers calling for the death penalty for The Five.
    And even after the DNA evidence fully exonerated them, he not only proffered no apology or retraction, but doubled down, saying, something to the effect of, these kids were “no angels.”
    (As if Donald himself, now a defendant in multiple fraud suits over his Trumpf University scam, were himself any kind of angel.)
    Be good to have a follow-up on this teacher’s case.

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