Five teenagers who had been in the park at the time — four of them African American and one Hispanic — were arrested. After two days of questioning by police detectives, during which the young men said they were deprived of food and sleep, the suspects confessed. None actually admitted committing the rape and assault; each pointed his finger at the others. There was no physical evidence tying any of them to the crime. Based on those confessions, however, all were convicted and sent to prison.
Trump took out full-page ads in New York newspapers that blared: “Bring back the death penalty. Bring back our police!” He wrote that “muggers and murderers … should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes. They must serve as examples so that others will think long and hard before committing a crime or an act of violence.”
But the men had recanted their confessions, saying they were coerced. And in 2002, another man — a convicted rapist and murderer — admitted having committed the crime. DNA evidence proved that he was, without a doubt, the perpetrator. The Central Park Five were exonerated and released, and the city paid them settlements totaling $41 million.
Trump opposed the payment at the time. Now he tells CNN that he still believes the five men are guilty, regardless of the DNA evidence proving them innocent.
According to CNN, Trump said this week in a statement: “They admitted they were guilty. The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous. And the woman, so badly injured, will never be the same.”
There is no explanation but racism for this stubborn denial of the truth, which no officials still dispute. Trump decided from the beginning that these black and brown men had to be guilty. They fit the profile. He still believes the discredited confessions that detectives sweated out of them, and he believes the men deserve no compensation for their long unjust imprisonment. He holds these views despite unambiguous DNA evidence that everyone else now accepts.
Trump says that as president he would institute “tough” law enforcement policies. He calls for reinstituting “stop and frisk” police tactics that a federal judge ruled discriminatory and unconstitutional. He claims violence and lawlessness are rampant in the “inner cities,” even though crime rates are barely half what they were when the Central Park Five were unjustly sent to prison. He began his campaign, you will recall, by charging that Mexican immigrants are “rapists.”
For young African American and Latino men, Trump has a clear and ominous message: You must be guilty of something. Not even scientific proof can convince him otherwise. If that is not racism, the word has no meaning.