Donald Trump's 30-year crusade against the Central Park Five

Trump's statement to CNN this week is just the latest development in his long-running fascination with the infamous crime

Three decades and nothing has changed.
(Image credit: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

When a Central Park jogger was brutally raped and beaten nearly to death in 1989, Donald Trump was at the front of the pack calling for literal blood. Four black teenagers and one Latino teenager were charged and jailed on shaky evidence after confessing to the crime under intense questioning, and two weeks after the attack, Trump took out a full-page ad in four city newspapers advocating for the reinstatement of the death penalty.

But the so-called Central Park Five were vindicated in 2002, when their convictions were vacated after a convicted murderer and rapist confessed to the crime — a confession that was corroborated by DNA evidence. (DNA was never found connecting the Central Park Five to the crime.) The Central Park Five were eventually awarded a $41 million settlement from New York City in 2014.

But over the decades, even as it became increasingly clear that the Central Park Five were innocent, Trump has continued to call for their deaths, and even criticized the city for its multi-million dollar settlement — all without any actual evidence that the Central Park Five were involved in the rape.

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"To see that he has not changed his position of being a hateful person, to see that he has not changed his position of inciting people, to see that he's still the same person and in many ways he has perfected his sense of being the number-one inciter, you know, I was scared," Yusef Salaam, who was 15 when he was accused as one of the Central Park Five, told The Guardian earlier this year. "I thought for a moment: What would this country look like with Donald Trump as president? That's a scary thing."

Here's a look at Trump's history with the Central Park Five.

May 1, 1989

Trump pays a reported $85,000 for full-page ads in four of New York's major newspapers, including The New York Times. "Bring back the death penalty. Bring back our police!" Trump's ad blared. The mogul also wrote: "I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes."

"We were all afraid," Salaam told The Guardian. "Our families were afraid. Our loved ones were afraid."

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April 24, 2013

Over a decade after the Manhattan district attorney learns through "DNA and other evidence that the woman had been raped and beaten not by the five teenagers but by another man," Trump continues to pick fights about the case on Twitter following the release of the 2012 documentary, The Central Park Five.

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June 21, 2014

Donald Trump writes a piece for the New York Daily News in response to the city awarding the Central Park Five a $41 million settlement, which he deems "the heist of the century."

Speak to the detectives on the case and try listening to the facts. These young men do not exactly have the pasts of angels.What about all the people who were so desperately hurt and affected? I hope it's not too late to continue to fight and that this unfortunate event will not have a repeat episode any time soon — or ever.As citizens and taxpayers, we deserve better than this. [The New York Daily News]

June 22, 2014

Trump continues to rant about the settlement on Twitter, one day after after his op-ed appears:

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Oct. 7, 2016

Nearly 15 years after the Central Park Five were proven by DNA evidence to not have been involved in the attack of the Central Park jogger, Trump continues to rail against them. "They admitted they were guilty," Trump said in a statement to CNN this week. "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."

For MTV, Jamil Smith broke down the lasting echoes of Trump's obsession with the Central Park Five that can be found in his campaign today:

This is why that 1989 [full-page New York Times] ad is key to understanding the kinds of things we're hearing from the Trump campaign today. His alarmist rhetoric isn't just racist and hyperbolic; spoken from a platform that's elevated enough, it can be dangerous. We know Trump does this now, but we first saw him do it 27 years ago. "I think that one of the things that was really shocking about the Central Park Five was how the idea of 'innocent until proven guilty' was not a conversation that we were having," said [public policy professor Leigh Wright] Rigueur. "The public outrage around the issue was fever-pitched. The phrase 'wilding' comes out of that because it's this idea of 'super-predator' blacks and Latinos roaming through New York City and raping women." [MTV]

The victim, Trisha Meili, is now 55 and a motivational speaker who released a book about her story in 2004. Salaam is now 41. When Trump ran ads calling for Salaam to face the death penalty, Salaam didn't even know who the real estate mogul was — just that "this very famous person" was "calling for us to die."

But Trump "was the fire starter," Salaam says now. "Common citizens were being manipulated and swayed into believing we were guilty […] Had this been the 1950s, that sick type of justice that they wanted — somebody from that darker place of society would have most certainly came to our homes, dragged us from our beds and hung us from trees in Central Park. It would have been similar to what they did to Emmett Till."

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