The Jogger and Justice

Years ago, Ronald Reagan’s former Labor Secretary, Ray Donovan, found himself cleared of corruption allegations. “Where do I go,” he asked, “to get my reputation back?”

The five youths accused, convicted and jailed in the Central Park jogger case in 1989 have an even more profound question to ask: Where can they go to retrieve the years they wasted in prison for a crime they didn’t commit? The question is rhetorical; the point, however, is real and urgent. How many people are unjustly imprisoned, or worse, because the criminal-justice system failed them?

The jogger case was a terrible crime, particularly as it was portrayed in the press at the time: A brutal gang rape, an appalling assault, a victim left for dead. The media demanded arrests and some form of justice. Arrests were quick in coming. Justice, as it turns out, took a holiday. True, the youths confessed to the crime, but that fact simply makes the case all the more alarming. What leads an innocent person to confess to a crime, particularly a crime as brutal as this one? The obvious answer-coercion-should inspire chills and outrage.

Questions about the supposedly settled and solved case came to light after a rapist and murderer named Matias Reyes confessed, all these years later, to committing the crime. Luckily for the wrongly accused youths, and for the larger cause of justice, a high-ranking member of the Manhattan district attorney’s office was courageous enough to conduct a dispassionate review of the case over the last six months. Based on Nancy Ryan’s findings, her boss, Robert Morgenthau, recently asked a judge to set aside the guilty verdicts.

Obviously, many questions about this travesty remain unanswered, but they all boil down to two large and important questions: How could this have happened, and how often does something like this happen-not just in New York, but throughout the nation?

The case demands a complete re-evaluation of Mr. Morgenthau’s handling of the case. Was the investigation hurried, in part to quiet tabloid demands for scapegoats? Was critical evidence ignored or withheld? Did anybody in the office harbor doubts about the suspects’ guilt?

New Yorkers have to come to terms with a deeply disturbing fact: Five young men were railroaded in the jogger case. Who now can say with confidence that New York’s prisons hold no other innocents?

Indian Point’s Keystone Cops

“The testing is a joke. An armed assault on the plant cannot be stopped. It’s that simple.”

So said a former security guard at the Indian Point nuclear-power plant to The New York Times last week, after The Times had obtained a new report commissioned by Indian Point’s owner, the $10 billion New Orleans-based Entergy Corporation. For years, the Indian Point 2 and Indian Point 3 nuclear reactors, located just 30 miles north of Manhattan, have been a disaster waiting to happen. Like previous owners, Entergy has dismissed the public outcry over the reactors’ lousy safety record. Now, Entergy’s own investigators have concluded that the plant is profoundly vulnerable to an armed terrorist assault. How much longer will New York’s elected officials-including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Governor George Pataki, and Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton-allow Entergy to keep Indian Point open and endanger the lives and health of 20 million people? A meltdown or terrorist event at Indian Point-both of which are well within the realm of the probable, according to experts-would make Sept. 11 look like a minor tragedy.

Even if Indian Point had top-notch security, it would pose a lethal risk. It has the worst safety record among the country’s 103 nuclear reactors. The new security report commissioned by Entergy makes for chilling reading. It tells of guards reporting for work drunk, of mock terrorist attacks so predictably routine that only an idiot would be unable to thwart them, of frequent breakdowns in the alarm systems that are supposed to warn of unauthorized entry, of guards being pressured not to file reports about security lapses. Many of the guards are in terrible physical shape, according to the report, and are made to work 16-hour shifts-and thus are half-asleep most of the time. One guard was fired in February for pointing a gun at a colleague.

Entergy’s evacuation plan is absurd; it applies to just a 10-mile radius of the plant. In the aftermath of a meltdown or terrorist attack, a 50-mile radius would need to be evacuated-and that includes all of New York City.

What are the chances Entergy’s chief executive, J. Wayne Leonard, and its board of directors will ever shut down Indian Point? Slim to none: After Entergy bought the reactors, it saw its earnings increase by $10 million in one year.

Which means it’s up to Governor Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg, and Senators Schumer and Clinton to do whatever it takes to pressure the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to shut Indian Point permanently. To wait any longer is to play dice with the lives of 20 million people.

New York’s Crime Miracle

There’s no shortage of bad news in and around City Hall these days. The budget is a mess. Spending cuts are coming; higher property taxes already are a fact of life.

But amid the gloom, there is good news. Tremendous news, in fact, about one of the city’s greatest assets: The crime rate continues to decline. Now, you’ve heard that before-so often that, amazingly, your eyes probably glaze over. That’s how accustomed we’ve become to historic decreases in crime.

This time, however, the good news is even more encouraging than in the past. New York remains a safer city than it was a decade ago-even though crime is on the increase in other big cities.

That’s astonishing, and it’s a tribute to the groundbreaking work of Rudolph Giuliani and his police commissioners, and the wisdom of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his commissioner, Ray Kelly, in continuing the successful war on crime launched in the early 1990’s.

Clearly, New York is doing something right, and other cities are not following suit. Nationwide statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation show that murder was up by 2.5 percent in 2001, car theft by 5.7 percent and robberies by 3.7 percent. In New York, however, the murder rate is down an amazing 12.7 percent this year, car theft is down 9.8 percent, and crime overall has dropped 5.3 percent.

Police officials say they’re mystified. Yet with murders on the increase in Boston, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Chicago, the fact is that New York remains what it was during the height of the Giuliani years: the safest large city in the United States. It’s a fantastic turn of events, and the NYPD deserves our congratulations.