Two of the Central Park Five, the father of Sean Bell and a man wrongly convicted gave testimony of the injustice and their grief Saturday in Uniondale, and urged youths to be involved in the community, stay out of trouble and get an education.
The four men -- Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam, William Bell and Alan Newton -- were part of a panel discussion at Uniondale High School, sponsored by the school district's Male Engagement Initiative program, which aims to promote self-esteem and healthy lifestyles for young men.
"Our community could be better just by the presence of the older males that are active in our community," said Albert Curley III, 18, a high school senior and ordained minister.
The panel was part of a student-planned event of more than 200 people that connects students with adults through discussion, performances and physical activities while unplugging their electronic devices.
"We live in the 21st century where everyone is plugged into something," said Keith Saunders, dean of academic services, who started the 5-year-old districtwide program. "Twitter, Facebook, World Star, Instagram and do it for the Vine, but this disconnects us from human contact."
Panelist William Bell said he still can't sleep at night thinking about his 23-year-old son, Sean, who died in 2006 in a hail of 50 bullets fired by NYPD undercover officers outside a Queens strip club, where there had been a bachelor party just hours before Sean Bell's wedding. He advised the youths to avoid altercations. "If you get into some kind of issues or problems with someone else, it's best to walk away," said Bell, 60, of St. Albans, Queens.
Newton, who was exonerated of rape, robbery, and assault convictions in 2006 after serving 22 years in prison, said his legal troubles started when his mug shot from a misdemeanor case was used in a lineup book presented to eyewitnesses who identified him as the perpetrator. Post-conviction DNA testing later proved that Newton did not commit the crime.
"Because I was trying to roll with the lions when I was a sheep at the time, this is what happened to me," said Newton, 52, of the Bronx, a research associate with the CUNY Black Male Initiative.
"It cost me 22 years of my life."