Unbelievably sad and a shameful disgrace: Acclaimed lensman on wrongly convicted Central Park Five

When they see us: Netflix. a series about the trial of the Central Park Five when Kevin Richardson, Antron Mccray, Raymond Santana Jr., Korey Wise, and Yusef Salaam were arrested for the rape and assault of a jogger in central park, New York in 1989. They were imprisoned for 13 yrs until DNA evidence exonerated them.
When they see us: Netflix. a series about the trial of the Central Park Five when Kevin Richardson, Antron Mccray, Raymond Santana Jr., Korey Wise, and Yusef Salaam were arrested for the rape and assault of a jogger in central park, New York in 1989. They were imprisoned for 13 yrs until DNA evidence exonerated them.

Acclaimed photo journalist Harry Benson has criticised the “shameful disgrace” of America’s justice system over the wrongful conviction of five black teenagers 30 years ago.

Benson photographed the ­so-called Central Park Five, who were jailed for attacking and ­raping a white woman jogging late at night in New York City’s Central Park in 1989.

The infamous case, which saw Donald Trump take out newspaper adverts calling for the death penalty for the youngsters, is now the subject of an acclaimed Netflix drama.

When They See Us is the streaming service’s ­ most-watched show since its debut on May 31.

Glasgow-born Benson, famous for his pictures of The Beatles and every US president since Dwight D Eisenhower, was commissioned by Life magazine to take photographs of the Central Park Five.

He took striking images of Yusef Salaam, then 15, with his mother Sharonne in Central Park. Salaam was just 15 when he was on trial along with four other boys for the rape of 28- year-old investment banker Trisha Meili.

She was attacked in Central Park and left for dead, waking from a coma 12 days later with no memory of what had happened to her.

Prosecutors were accused of a witch hunt against the five boys and ignoring key evidence, while the boys said they were forced into giving false confessions by the police.

Picture by Harry Benson. Yusef Salaam, a member of the Central Park Five, who were convicted and then exonerated of the rape and assault of a jogger in 1989, with his mother, Sheronne.

Their convictions were overturned in 2002 after Matias Reyes, a serial rapist and murderer, confessed to the crime and his DNA matched evidence found at the scene. The five men were later awarded £32 million in compensation. New York-based Benson, now 89, described the case as ­“unbelievably sad and a ­ shameful disgrace of the justice system”.

He said: “A terrible thing was done to these guys. Terrible. And for it to happen in liberal, free-thinking New York.

“It was no different from ­something that would have ­happened in Mississippi or Alabama.

“Yusef was a tall, good-looking boy.

“He wasn’t from the ghetto. He lived in a nice building on the edge of Harlem.

“His mother was so articulate and protective of her son. Yusef seemed numb and didn’t want to speak. He could have burst out crying.

“There was public outrage at the attack on the woman in Central Park and so much harassment of the boys, including Donald Trump putting adverts in the newspapers calling for the boys to be executed.

“Trump is a terrible man.”

Salaam, who served six years in a youth correctional facility, grew up to become a motivational speaker, poet and criminal justice reform campaigner.

Salaam, now 45, was presented with a lifetime achievement award by Barack Obama in 2016.

Benson, however, hasn’t seen him since photographing him in Central Park 30 years ago.

He said: “Usually when I am finished, I am finished. I am on to the next one.

“If I go back, it usually means I have messed up or missed out an important ingredient.”

Benson, who lives in Manhattan with his wife Gigi, is currently working on photo­graphy books on Sir Paul McCartney and the Berlin Wall.

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