Nov. 7, 2012

“Mass hysteria always makes perfect sense when we are trapped in it. It can take decades – or even longer – before the crazed irrationality of a particular episode shows itself for what it was.”

– From “When Mass Hysteria Convicted 5 Teenagers” in The New York Times (October 27)

Thanks to a new documentary by Ken Burns, the Central Park Five – all convicted of a widely publicized 1989 rape and beating – will soon return to the spotlight. According to the Times,
Burns depicts “the forces that led citizens, politicians, the media and the criminal justice system to brush past yawning gaps in the evidence in the case.”

Beyond a shared year on the timeline of wrongful prosecutions, these urban teenagers, black and Hispanic, seem to have borne few similarities to the Edenton Seven. But I could never read  the  words “yawning gaps in evidence” without thinking of a Little Rascals prosecution built almost entirely on the resolutely manipulated, deceitfully paraphrased testimony of children.