The four black teenagers who show that Trump will do more harm than good with race relations

In 1989, during the Central Park Five case, the now-presidential candidate took out a full page advert in four New York City newspapers calling for the return of the death penalty. The boys accused were between 14 and 16 years old

Rachael Revesz
Sunday 10 July 2016 20:18 BST
The nominee presumptive for the Republican Party has been suspiciously calm since the Dallas shooting
The nominee presumptive for the Republican Party has been suspiciously calm since the Dallas shooting (Reuters)

After a horrendous week of interracial violence in America, re-watching Ken Burns’ The Central Park Five documentary has shed new light on some familiar faces, and one in particular.

Donald Trump was building his empire in New York City when five young boys, four black and one of Hispanic descent, were pressured into making false confessions that they brutally assaulted and raped a white investment banker called Trisha Meili in April 1989.

Given the recent spotlight on police brutality against Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, it is incredible that all five of these now exonerated men were arrested, served time and came out alive.

The Central Park Five boys were hounded, eviscerated and pilloried in the press, by the former mayor Ed Koch and even by some members of their own communities. But perhaps by none more so than Trump.

As reported in the documentary, the now presidential candidate took out a full page advert in four New York City newspapers in 1989 calling for the return of the death penalty. The boys were between 14 and 16 years old.

“I want to hate these murderers and I always will. I am not looking to psychoanalyse or understand them. I am looking to punish them. If the punishment is strong, the attacks on innocent people will stop,” the advert reads. “I recently watched a newscast trying to explain the ‘anger in these young men’. I no longer want to understand their anger. I want them to understand our anger. I want them to be afraid."

The “presidential” Trump now is the same man who has over the last 35 years wriggled and ingratiated himself into every aspect of cultural, financial and political New York City life, from scrapping socially affordable housing to presenting awards ceremonies, from buying beauty pageants to fighting renewable energy and lobbying politicians.

While he and many others accused the now exonerated men of “wilding” in Central Park that April night, he was wielding deals and bankrupting contractors and casinos, screwing over his Trump University students and making misogynistic comments about women.

While in 2014 Trump claimed those innocent teenagers had still been “up to no good” in 1989, he was gaining a national platform and exploiting it to peddle his own agenda against Mexicans and Muslims, airing his views to millions of frustrated and angry blue collar workers who were desperate for a scapegoat amid their economic woes.

Yet, the outspoken candidate has been oddly silent during the latest tragedy in Dallas, where a peaceful protest against the deaths of Sterling and Castile turned horrendously ugly as 25-year-old Micah Xavier Johnson gunned down five white police officers.

Instead of tweeting about the need to act “tough and smart”, to build walls or to ban Muslims from the US – his usual line after a “terrorist” attack – he has only offered prayers and condolences to the families devastated by the horrific events this week.

“Racial divisions have gotten worse, not better,” he said in a statement on Facebook.

Trump on Dallas shooting

But when he talks about “restoring law and order”, is he wishing with longing for the days of former mayor Rudy Giuliani?

His words seem suspiciously calm in the statement and tweets, neither blaming white nor black people. No talk of banning anyone. No labels of “drug-dealers” and “rapists” like he put on the Mexicans.

Maybe he is adhering to his own despised notion of “political correctness” due to the recent reports of his father participating in a KKK brawl in Queens. Or maybe he has been around for seven decades in America and therefore just long enough to realise that appearing to be anti-black in any capacity is “really not OK right now.

Korey Wise, one of the young men to be wrongly convicted in the Central Park Five, was sent to an adult prison at the age of 16 and served 12 years behind bars. He told the New York Daily News that Donald Trump, if elected president, would “throw them all under a bus”.

Trump told the same publication last year that the five boys should not have received the death penalty because Ms Meili “didn’t die”, but if he had been New York mayor, the men would not have received $41m (£32m) compensation in 2014 – they wouldn’t have “got a dime”.

Trump has been around a lot longer than many of us remember, and has made some statements that he might like us to forget.

But make no mistake about it. If it had been up to Donald Trump, those young black and hispanic men would not have just been thrown under a bus. They would most likely be dead.

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