Iman Mekonen, Spectrum Editor
Kevin Richardson, a member of the Central Park Five, visited VCU on Tuesday to discuss his life experiences in a lecture and Q&A hosted by the Activities Programming Board.
This group of five African American and Hispanic men, including Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise, were wrongfully accused of the raping of Trisha Melli, a jogger in Central Park in 1989. The members of the group were exonerated in 2002 after a confession from Matias Reyes.
Richardson was the youngest of the group — at just 14 years old — when all five were accused of rape. He then spent more than five years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
The case was recently turned into a four-part Netflix series directed by Ava DuVernay, “When They See Us,” which was nominated for 15 Primetime Emmy Awards.
Here are the highlights from the event’s Q & A that was moderated by APB Lectures Co-Coordinator Barrett Miller. Responses have been edited for space and clarity.
Richardson on the documentary “The Central Park Five” and the Netflix series, “When They See Us”
The doc broke down different things about how the ’80s was with racism and things like that. Netflix and “When They See Us” is a whole different piece. It’s on a whole other stratosphere because now, it’s reaching the youth. And Netflix — A lot of people watch Netflix you know, and it has grabbed their attention. And now, our story has become so relevant, and it was 30 years ago. People like my man here [Miller] and people that’s younger in age. They’re now connected to it, and that’s a beautiful thing. So I think that it’s important to watch the doc and then come right out and watch “When They See Us.” There’s a lot of emotion with it, but I feel like it’s necessary to do so. So I love both of them. “When They See Us” wouldn’t be here without “The Central Park Five” in the beginning, so I love both of them.
On instilling change with the upcoming election
If we want to change, we have to vote. I know people say that and it’s so cliche. No, you don’t understand voting. … Our forefathers… lost [their] lives for us to vote. Before, women could not vote. People with a criminal record could not vote. The first time I got to vote, I voted for everything. School lunch, everything, because I was robbed of the opportunity. So, I think that there’s still hope, you know, and there has to be hope. It has to get better from what it is now. Because trust me, you don’t want to go backwards — backwards through time, if you get what I’m saying. You don’t want to go back, sort of like a slavery type of situation, and it’s kind of stemming that way. So I really think you need to vote, first and foremost.
If the prosecutors/accusers ever apologized after the exoneration
To answer that one quick for you — No … The prosecutors, the D.A., … They didn’t think our story would come out. They’d never thought that we would arise from the dirt. So they didn’t want to apologize, but it’s okay. Do you know why? Because I don’t think they could sleep at night. No human could sleep at night knowing that they did. … Linda Fairstein, what happened to her — that was the community. Liz Lederer, she used to teach at Columbia. The students and faculty came together to get her fired. Actually, she quit before that. So, it’s all about the people. So, as far as saying sorry, we not even waiting for that. We’re just doing what we have to do.
On therapy post-exoneration
It’s still a process. It’s an everyday process actually. We all [Exonerated Five] suffer from PTSD. That’s a real situation. Going through this — me speaking and traveling — that’s my therapy. Going down and seeing people and…love that we’re receiving, it helps us out a lot. You know, ’cause in prison you see none of that. You certainly receive it afterwards, so it’s very hard. I have my time and I have my moments and I’m real. I’m human, you know. I have times where I’m just crying by myself. My mother and my wife asks ‘what’s wrong.’ But she can’t help me because I have these things that have happened to me, and the 14 year old is coming back out. When I first seen “When They See Us,” I see my 14-year-old self in my man Asante Blackk, who played me. So, you know, it’s real. But there’s still hope. It’s still a process every day.