Chicago Defender News Literacy Program Lesson 5: The Central Park Jogger Case

CNL News Lesson

Lesson Outline

Written by:  

Myiti Sengstacke, African American Studies Instructor
City Colleges of Chicago, Kennedy-King College

Michelle R. Yisrael, Reading, English & Literature
City Colleges of Chicago, Kennedy-King College


To investigate how intense media coverage of the case created racial criminalization of six minority youth.

Essential Question:  

How did media coverage of the Central Park Jogger Case create enough racial dissention to criminalize six minority youth?


Students will be able to…

  • Think critically about news content.
  • Examine the formation of stories and how they are made.
  • Evaluate  news reporting vs. editorializing
  • Analyze inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, as it relates to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

News Literacy terms to be incorporated:

  • Direct evidence
  • Indirect evidence
  • Conflicting truths
  • Verification
  • Fairness vs. Justice
  • Cognitive Dissonance

Introducing the Lesson:

On April 19, 1989 in New York City’s Central Park, a 28 year old White female jogger, was attached, raped, beaten, sodomized, and left for dead.  She was left comatose for 12 days.  The case was widely publicized and attracted nationwide attention.  Four African American males and one Hispanic youth were tried for the crime and convinced by two separate juries.  Trisha Meili, the Central Park jogger,  could not remember her attackers.  They received sentences ranging from 5-15 years.  Antron McCary, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise, and Yself Salaam “confessed” to the crime by implicating one another.  After spending their remaining teen years as well as their early adult years in prison, they boys spent  between 5-13 years in prison for the heinous crime, but were later exonerated.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why did the boys go to the park in the first place?  What were the more than mischievous events that happened in the park that night?  
  2. How involved were they in the events which led to the crime that took place in the park that night?  
  3. What impressions do you get about the large group’s behavior that night?  Based on the facts, why do you feel that way?  
  4. (After a second viewing of the film’s introduction)  Write a list of the information you saw and heard in the news clips.  Using this evidence, write a short explanation of what you think was on the minds of New Yorkers at that time.  Share your explanations.  
  5. How did the investigators get the boys to implecate themselves in the crime?  
  6. What role do you think an inadequate educational system, unemployment, and systemic institutionalized racism played in the conviction of the Central Park 5?
  7. How did the criminal justice system fail the Central Park five?
  8. How did the accusation of a White women being raped by minority males affect the fears and prejudices already existing?
  9. How does the Central Park jogger case stand as a cautionary tale about what can happen to young people  from African American  and Latino communities at the hands of the police and other elements of the criminal justice system?
  10. If the Black Lives Matter movement existed during the time the Central Park five were convicted, how could the movement have helped?  
  11. Of what rights should we be aware?  What should we ensure youth know about their rights?
  12. How did the connotations of these terms used by the media affect the case?   Characterizing the suspects:
  • “Wilding,”
  • “Rampaging in Wolf Packs,”
  • “Wolf Pack’s Prey”  

Characterizing the victim:

  • “Lived a Dream#Life,”
  • “Golden Girl,”
  • “Female Jogger near Death after Savage Attack by Roving Gang”  

Characterizing the crime:

  • “Central#Park Horror,”
  • “Nightmare in Central Park”
  • “Wolf Pack Ignored Her Cries,
  • “Called It  Fun”

         13.  How does the Trayvon Martin case of 2012  compare and contrast to the Emiitt Tiill case from 1955?

Historical Link & Whole Group Discussion: 


Videos to link the lesson:


Write an Essay:  

Choose one topic and for your essay.

  1. What role do you think the environment in which they were reared  played in the conviction of the Central Park 5?
  2. How can peer pressure lead to the devastating life events?
  3. How do people in urban areas cope with life when the environment is similar to the environment in which the Central Park 5 were reared?

Peer Review & Collaboration:

If you were a city official in an urban area where crime is rampant, what would you do to improve your city?  Working with your group, create a sustainable action plan.  

Oral presentation:

Present your group’s sustainable action plan to the large group.