On April 19, 1989, a 28-year-old white woman out for a run in Central Park was violently beaten and raped. Five black and Latinx teenagers were put on trial for the crime and convicted. In the tabloids, they were called the Central Park Five. Donald Trump placed a paid advertisement in all four of the city’s major newspapers, writing that the boys should “be afraid” and calling for restoration of the death penalty. Years later, the Five were exonerated thanks to DNA evidence and a confession from the real assailant. But when Trump campaigned for president, he brought up the case and asserted, against proof, that they were guilty.
Alexandra Bell examines coverage of the Central Park Five in a new series of prints, No Humans Involved: After Sylvia Wynter. The title refers to an open letter that Wynter, a cultural critic, wrote about police classification of black men. “I’m quite literally highlighting particular terms that I feel like are pathologizing and racialized and trying to show the ways stories are reported about black people,” she tells CJR.
“Is there a way to train people how to question? To have a whole set of questions about terminology used, what photos are used, where the photos are placed? It’s what I was trying to think about,” she says. “I’m trying to reorient people around who gets to be a victim.” On one page, which reads “Teen Gang Rapes Jogger,” she points out, “There is no ‘alleged.’ There is nothing. It just says it, in big bold letters at the top. I want people to think critically about these things.”
Of the Five, she adds, “It’s one thing to say, well, they were innocent and everyone thought they were guilty. It’s another thing to ask: How is the media complicit in that particular narrative and how could things have been done differently?”