BOSTON (CBS) – These last days of the year are a big season for movie-watching, and while it may not exactly put you in the holiday spirit, let me recommend a new documentary called “The Central Park Five.”

Listen to Jon’s commentary:

It tells a story most you over age 40 or so will remember, about five male black and Latino teens who were convicted of the brutal beating and sexual assault of a white female jogger in Central Park in April of 1989.

The crime came at a time when Americans were getting really anxious about violent crime, driven by a crack cocaine epidemic. New York City had become a symbol of social unraveling, and the so-called Central Park “wilding” case tapped into near-hysterical fear of crime, suspicious, dysfunctional race relations, and much more.

As the documentary shows, key institutions in New York – the police, prosecutors, politicians, and the media – chose to make an example of these five kids, and extracted videotaped confessions that sent them to prison for years.

One problem: they didn’t do it.

A serial rapist later confessed, and while the five were released, the movie shows how their lives and their families were devastated by this injustice.

“The Central Park Five” will appall you, and may make you wonder about how easily we seem to slip into political hysteria, not always as spectacular as the Salem witch trials or McCarthyism, but almost always creating damage.

For instance, consider the increasingly-likely chance that we will jeopardize our own economic standing in eleven days because elements of both major parties and their institutional enablers prefer that to legitimate compromise.

The hysterical impulse is like a virus within us, and “The Central Park Five” is a frightening look at what it’s like when we have an outbreak. Then and now, the only real antidotes are calmness, moderation and truth.

So we’ll be fine, if we can only find some of those things somewhere.

You can listen to Keller At Large on WBZ News Radio every weekday at 7:55 a.m. and 12:25 p.m. You can also watch Jon on WBZ-TV News.


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