If, like me, you spent a good part of your weekend tearfully watching Ava DuVernay’s masterful When They See Us on Netflix, you likely walked away wanting to ensure the world never forgets what was done to Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Korey Wise and Raymond Santana.
The five boys—then aged 14 to 16 and dubbed “The Central Park Five” by the media—were the victims of some of the worst railroading in the history of the criminal justice system, coerced into (conflicting) confessions by the NYPD, and subsequently convicted on rape, assault, robbery, and riot charges, despite a lack of physical evidence. Now exonerated, one of those boys turned men, Raymond Santana, is commemorating the tragic but enduring bond between the Central Park Five with a new “Brotherhood” T-shirt through his long-established Park Madison NYC line.
Riffing on the many popular tees that commemorate icons as diverse as the Beatles to black women freedom fighters, Santana’s design simply lists the names of the Central Park Five. It’s a poignant reminder that the boys dubbed “animals” by both the media, naysayers and much of the law enforcement they came in contact with are human beings—and, in this case, victims of a system that refused to see them as such.
Reflecting on his own experience from that period of his life, Santana, now an activist, designer and filmmaker who resides in Atlanta with his daughter, also created a shirt featuring his 1989 mugshot, writing on Instagram:
I created this shirt and called it the “Raymond Santana Tribute Tee” because I wanted to recognize the ups and downs, the road I traveled, to become the man that I am today. The obstacles, and how I lost my passion for art, but regained it by creating @parkmadisonnyc this shirt symbolizes so much for me. Words cant explain. But it’s my Art, it’s my EXPRESSION.. it’s my TRUTH…
Retailing for $30 each, the shirts are currently available for pre-order on the Park Madison site, with a portion of the proceeds from the “Brotherhood” shirts to benefit The Innocence Project, which fights wrongful convictions, and in which most of the Central Park Five are actively involved.
While the five are now free men, and have received restitution (though no admittance of wrongdoing) from the city of New York, their story is a prime example of the racism endemic in much of America’s law enforcement and criminal justice system—not to mention the man who currently occupies the Oval Office. The retelling of their story is a tragic reminder of not only their fates, but how little has changed in the decades since. Wearing their names is a reminder not to look away.