If you watched When They See Us (read my recap here!) or have been familiar with the story of the Exonerated Five (formerly known as the Central Park Five), you would know Korey King Wise. Korey Wise is a fighter. Korey Wise is a survivor. Korey Wise is a miracle. And today of all days, we celebrate his presence and his existence on his 47th birthday.
In 1989, he was one of five Black and Brown boys who were wrongfully arrested for and convicted of raping and assaulting a white woman in Central Park. Kevin, Antron, and Raymond were detained after cops arrested them in the park, but Korey was only taken in to custody because he was with his best friend Yusef, who was on the suspect short list. Korey was brought to jail for being a good friend. Because he was 16–the oldest boy of the bunch, the NYPD cops were legally allowed to question him without a parent present and his hearing and learning disabilities left him extremely vulnerable to the brutality of the officers and detectives. After a full day of violent interrogations and a promise that he could eventually return home, he falsely confessed to the rape and assault. Along with the other four children, he was sentenced to over a decade in prison, except Korey’s incarceration would be in an adult facility rather than a juvenile detention center. A 16-year-old boy in an adult ward of Rikers Island, Korey was severely beaten and assaulted numerous times by both incarcerated men and correctional officers. He also spent years in solitary confinement where he nearly lost his mind and where he learned that his beloved sister and mentor Marci, who was trans, had been murdered. While in prison, Korey stood in front of the parole board countless times, where they would only accept his plea if he accepted full responsibility of and confessed to his (nonexistent) role in the rape. He denied any part in the crime every single time. After 14 years in both jail and prison, Korey, Kevin, Antron, Raymond, and Yusef were exonerated of the rape and assault and 10 years after Korey’s release, the city settled their $41 million lawsuit. Today, Korey lives as a criminal justice activist in an apartment in Manhattan and is the namesake of the Innocence Project at the University of Colorado, to which he donated a large sum of his settlement. He has suffered immensely and struggled through a pain that most of us will never know, but Korey Wise is here with us where we all see him for what he truly is: a king.