Presumed guilty.

In the aftermath of a case where it seems almost everything is strikingly profound, Yusef Salaam–one of five Black and Latino youth who in 1989 were arrested and charged with brutally attacking and raping a White female jogger in New York’s Central Park–threw out that phrase during a recent visit to Los Angeles.

He was in the city last weekend to promote the opening of a new documentary that tells the shocking truth about this case. He also talked about the grim reality of life, post initial conviction.

“The Central Park Five” is based on a book written by Sarah Burns and turned into a movie co-directed by her father; noted filmmaker Ken Burns and her husband David McMahon.

It will open at the Landmark Nuart on Nov. 30 and play through Dec 6. The Landmark is located at 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.

Salaam pointed out that despite the fact he and his compatriots were exonerated, in part, by a confession that contained key details of the case the police could never resolve, many people felt he and the other boys got what they deserved for being in the park that night. Many also felt it was only a matter of time before they would have been arrested and imprisoned for something anyway.

That cavalier acceptance of the imprisonment of innocent Black and Latino youth is essentially the key message of the film.

“The film looks at all the factors and how they happened, and how to prevent this from happening in the future.” says author Burns.

“This is not isolated,” she added, noting that the Innocence Project found that one-quarter of the cases they were able to resolve involved confessions that actually were not true.

The Center of Wrongful Convictions and Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law’s Bluhm Legal Clinic also found that false confessions are one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions, accounting for roughly 25 percent of all DNA exonerations.

In all studies of false confessions, youth are overrepresented, noted the center, which is the only Innocence Project in the country that focuses exclusively on individuals who were convicted or accused of crimes when they were adolescents or younger.

Burns says this happens, in part, because the police can be very effective at creating a sense of imbalance where young people feel it is actually detrimental to avail themselves of their constitutional rights such as a having a lawyer present during questioning.

Salaam said police also did a good job of keeping him isolated from his mother during the interrogation process.

Burns said a big part of the problem in the Central Park Five case was the covert racism that played a part in allowing law enforcement, city officials, the news media and even residents to push aside discrepancies in details and accept the so-called “confessions.”

This racism also continued to play a part at the end–throughout 1989-90 the trial was covered on the front pages of New York newspapers, but the exoneration was run on back pages.

Salaam, said he felt overjoyed and overwhelmed after the real culprit confessed, even though he had already completed his six-and-a-half-year prison and parole terms.

Salaam, who also said he felt he had regained his humanity and dignity, talked about the strain of coming into adulthood with that kind of stigma attached to his life.

Salaam was arrested at age 15, released in October 1995 exonerated Dec. 18, 2002, and served 78 months wrongfully incarcerated.

As a result of the book and movie, Burns said a number of changes in police procedures have been instituted in locations around the nation. And some policing agencies have found the changes to their benefit as well.

One of the key modifications is to videotape confessions from the very beginning, instead of after hours of interrogation.

Burns also noted that another intangible change is to urge the media, jurors and other supposedly impartial entities to bring skepticism to the table.

Salaam, who said he along with Raymond Santana now spends time talking to youth at schools, said it is also critical for young people to always make sure they put the best face and image forward, despite the presumption and perception of guilt that often surrounds them.

Finally, Burns and Salaam say it is key that youth and their families know their rights.

Locally, an organization called Chuco’s Justice Center, which is located on the Inglewood/Los Angeles border and focuses on helping youth understand their legal rights, has created a website that details various legal steps youth can use if stopped by the police, face court proceedings or other legal challenges.