The First Amendment guarantees American citizens many rights, among them the right to a free press. Given their experiences with the British government, the founders believed this was essential in protecting the people by providing a check on the government. But, does the press have too much freedom? Should they have more freedom? What happens when their reporting is wrong?
The Roberto Clemente Community Academy junior Law classes explored these questions as they examined the Central Park Five case. During this case, a group of five teenage boys boys were arrested and eventually found guilty of committing a horrendous crime in Central Park, New York City. After serving the next thirteen years in prison, however, they were found innocent of the crimes. Some point to the way in which the press reported on various aspects of the case during the trial as a reason for their unfounded guilty charges. Perhaps due to the climate in New York City at the time or racial bias, these reports often included the assumption that the young teenagers were guilty of the crime.
Law students worked to understand actions of the press and the circumstances around the case. They then examined the facts of the case and various pieces of evidence police had gathered to use against the boys. With this information, they looked at the role the press played in covering the crime. Did the press sway public opinion? Did they taint the jury pool? In preparation for college and career, students wrote evidence based arguments discussing the role of the press in the United States, its impact on this particular case, and whether this case proves that the press should have more or less power. With differing views on the role of the press, students used their arguments to engage in a college-like discussions regarding the rights we enjoy and the limitations of those rights. While students may not have come to a final conclusion about the role of the press in the Central Park Five case, they did all agree on the important role the Freedom of the Press has on American life.