While The World Watches ‘When They See Us,’ A Latina Victim Of A Linked Crime The Same Night Is Forgotten
The premiere of Netflix’s new limited series, “When They See Us,” has sparked outrage over the injustices surrounding a heinous crime and spectacularly mishandled case fraught with racism. The series — directed by Ava Duvernay — tells the story of five young Black and brown men who were framed for a horrendous crime. Due to the incompetence and bigotry of the NYPD and New York District Attorney’s Office, the Central Park 5 lost their freedom and their childhoods.
In 1989, the group of kids was picked up by the NYPD as persons of interest in an assault and rape in Central Park. For 24 hours, the boys were interrogated without the presence of parents or lawyers. The detectives conducting the interviews used harsh and unethical questioning and tactics to coerce confessions from the group. Behind closed doors, they were beaten and denied food, water, and sleep. Non-surprisingly, by the end of their interrogations, the boys were willing to say anything to go home.
That is how the Central Park 5 found themselves falsely accused of the grisly attack on jogger, Trisha Meili.
The Central Park 5 were granted two separate trials for the rape and assault of Mieli but their fates were the same. Their trials showed that the defense had several conflicting timelines. Also, the boys were unable to recall details of the attack. Their taped confessions appeared forced and the physical evidence tied to the case didn’t match any of the defendants.
Still — even with this incredible lack of evidence — the five boys were found guilty. Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise would go on to each serve between 6-12 years in prison.
Throughout their years in prison, the five faced degrading treatment and targeted harassment for their perceived crime. Despite the convictions, their communities continued to fight for their freedom. The boys’ families were also tormented and singled out because of the criminal attention.
Despite all this, the Central Park 5 maintained that they were guilt-free during the entire ordeal. They were eventually completely exonerated. However, when their names were finally cleared, it wasn’t a police breakthrough that confirmed their innocence.
They were freed because the person who attacked Meili in Central Park was already in prison.
Matias Reyes was 17 when he attacked Meili in Central Park. Though she has become his best-known victim, she is only one in a string of attacks that started in 1988. One of these attacks was just two days before the Central Park assault. After the Apri 1989 rape of Meili, Reyes attacked five other women in the Upper East Side.
Reyes attacked nine women in total and all but one was raped. Additionally, all of his victims were beaten or sliced with a knife during the attacks. Some of the women were even stabbed in the eyes. This was Reyes’ attempt to keep his victims from recognizing him later.
The series of violent offenses had been noticed by the local news. However, the media was quick to move on to the next big crime. During this time, New York was a hotbed of criminal activity. Rape especially was rampant that year. Reyes’ attacks were simply seen as more of the same criminal activity that the city had come to expect.
While all of these attacks are atrocious — made even worse by the lack of attention they’ve received — one actually resulted in two murders.
Lourdes Gonzalez was a mother of three living in the Upper West Side with her boyfriend, Antonio Serrano. The two had plans to leave New York with their blended family to find some place that offered more green spaces than Central Park. Their youngest, Amanda, was only three-months-old but Gonzalez had discovered that she was pregnant yet again.
On the night of June 13, 1989, she shared the good news and the family celebrated. The next day, their lives would forever be changed by Reyes’ brutality.
That day, Gonzalez was alone in their apartment with her three kids, Amanda and the couple’s six-year-old sons, Tony and Carlitos. Serrano — the superintendent of their building — was out for the day. While Gonzalez was in the kitchen with Baby Amanda, someone knocked on the front door.
At Gonzalez’s request, Tony went to check who was there. It was a young Latino man who immediately asked if the building super was at home. When Tony responded in the negative, the man — now revealed to be Matias Reyes — pushed pass the little boy and entered the basement apartment. It’s then that Gonzalez saw the intruder.
Aware of what was going to happen, Gonzalez passed her baby to her boys and told them to go the bedroom and lock the door behind them.
Though they were just in the next room, the children were spared the torment of hearing their mother’s attack. However, they did hear the threat Reyes leveled at Gonzalez before assaulting her.
“I’ll take your eyes or your kids,” Tony — now an adult — recalls the words his mother’s attacker said that day.
Once alone, Reyes overpowered Gonzalez. He used one of her own kitchen knives to stab the young mother nine times in her chest and abdomen. Like other victims, she was also sliced on her face. Sometime during the brutal assault, he raped her.
It only took minutes, but once it was over, both Gonzalez and the room were covered in blood. That’s how her children found her when they left their hiding spot. Despite all the blood, Gonzalez was already on the phone, frantically calling 911. The boys carefully hid their baby sister in the bedroom closet and then ran to the neighbors for help.
Gonzalez was found outside her apartment, collapsed on her way to the elevator. She deliriously repeated to her rescuers to get her baby from the room. The mother would only live another few hours before she would succumb to her wounds.
Gonzalez and her unborn child were the only ones to lose their lives during Reyes’ ruthless rampage.
After attacking the ninth woman, Reyes was finally captured in August of 1989. At first, he didn’t mention the assault on Gonzalez but did after further interrogation. The crimes he was convicted of didn’t include every offense during his reign of terror but it did land him in prison for life.
Reyes wouldn’t go on to admit to the Central Park assault until 2001. He confessed of his own free will because he claimed it was the, “right thing to do.” Reyes was not tried for Gonzalez’s attack and received no extra sentence for the deaths he caused.
Knowing what we know now, we can’t help but think about the detectives who investigated the Central Park assault. If they had connected that case to Reyes’ previous ones, the Central Park 5 would not have been suspects. If they focused on the correct narrative, Gonzalez and her unborn child wouldn’t have lost their lives. Had they conducted a non-bias investigation, even after the Gonzalez case, they could have stopped other attacks.
These detectives could have spared the Central Park 5 years of imprisonment.
The racist push of the New York District Attorney’s Office to incriminate the five brown and Black boys should never be forgotten. Not only did their activities take childhoods away from the five boys, their inactivity terrorized eight other women. Due to their short sidedness, Tony, Carlitos and Amanda grew up without their mother. Lourdes and her baby are gone because of their disgraceful misdirection.
The account of Gonzale and the other women victimized by Reyes shouldn’t replace the story of Trisha Meili or the Central Park 5. Instead, they should be remembered side-by-side. They should stand as an example of a racist institution that operates with way too much unchecked power and the disservice it does to marginalized communities.
There isn’t anything we can do to erase the pain felt by the Central Park 5, Gonzalez, Meili or any of the victims. However, we can make sure this sort of bigotry and ineptitude never goes unchecked again.
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