Nearly 30 years ago, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray and I went from being teenagers with big dreams to becoming the Central Park Five overnight. The press, the city and the whole world instantly believed we were guilty of attacking and nearly killing a white female jogger in Central Park. We never had a chance to prove our innocence.
Despite the horror we endured—we were branded as monsters and rapists, while high-profile New Yorkers called for our execution and we lost a combined 33.5 years of our youth in prison—but we still consider ourselves lucky. We lost years of our lives, but thanks to the DNA evidence proving our innocence, we made it to freedom on the other side. I’m afraid to even think of the thousands of men and women who will never live to see this side.
Related: Remembering Kalief Browder a Year After his Suicide
That’s why today—first day of Black History Month—I’m asking you to stand with me in making a commitment to show up for racial justice this year. Will you sign the Innocence Project’s pledge for racial justice?
Troy Davis, who maintained his innocence until the end in the murder of a police officer, was executed in 2011.
Our case has become an important example of the many systemic failures of the criminal justice system. Working with the Innocence Project and other organizations, we’ve become advocates for essential reforms to prevent future injustice. We’re here to tell our story and fight harder than ever to prevent the pervasiveness of racial bias from instantly deeming black and brown people as guilty, without a chance of proving their innocence.
Black History Month is a chance to speak up even louder for our brothers and sisters who are no longer here to share their truth—Kalief Browder, Ledell Lee, Troy Davis and countless others who never had a fair trial, adequate defense or the chance to access DNA testing that could have proven their innocence.
Related: Ledell Lee: ‘My life on death row is like Twilight Zone’
We can’t sit back and allow one more innocent black person to be punished, or worse, executed for the color of their skin. Will you stand with me in fighting against racial bias in our criminal justice system?
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Ledell Lee executed by Arkansas in 2017 without a chance of testing DNA that could have proven his innocence.
Kalief Browder was wrongly accused of stealing a backpack. After refusing to take a plea deal, he spent three years in Riker’s solitary confinement. He hung himself two years after his release.