People living in America are well aware of the various controversies surrounding Donald J. Trump, the President of the United States - but the people of New York City have been at the forefront of the infamous conflict between Trump and the Central Park Five. The Five were a group of minority youths who were accused of a horrific attack on a female jogger, Trisha Meili. On April 19, 1989, Meili, a 28-year-old investment banker, was jogging through Central Park around 9:00 pm when she was attacked. The attack put Meili in a coma for 12 days and left her with severe brain damage, though she was able to mostly overcome this after years of rehabilitation.
The brazen assault on an innocent woman in the middle of Central Park greatly shocked the people of New York, and the incident became one of the most heavily covered crime stories of the 1980s. Of course, the fact that Donald Trump was one of those shocked New Yorkers had a lot to do with that extensive coverage. The appearance of a Trump Central Park Five ad calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty in several local newspapers only served to further inflame the controversy. What was originally a single, terrible assault quickly spiraled into a racially tinged debate and a highly questionable police investigation.
In the end, the Central Park Five were each convicted and sentenced to a number of years in prison, and it would be more than a decade before the real attacker, Matias Reyes, confessed and was confirmed with DNA evidence.
After the news of the attack began to spread, Donald Trump took out a full-page newspaper ad declaring in bold across the top half of the page, “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!” The remaining half of the ad contained a detailed explanation of the city's need for greater law and order. Trump also called for the execution of “criminals of every age” and stated “they 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.”
Given the proximity of this ad to the Central Park incident, and the fact that many assumed Trisha Meili was unlikely to recover, many viewed this as a plea to the public for the execution of the Central Park Five.
After several incidents had been reported to the NYPD on the night of the Trisha Meili attack, police were on the lookout for any suspicious groups of minority teens. They then located the group that would become known as the Central Park Five - Raymond Santana (14), Kevin Richardson (14), Antron McCray (15), Yusef Salaam (15), and Kharey Wise (16). Of the Five, four were black and one was Hispanic, and they had all been apprehended in connection with the incidents reported that evening.
During their interrogation, the tone turned toward the Meili assault, and after hours of questioning, each of the Central Park Five admitted to having had a role in the reported assaults from that night, including the attack on Meili. None of the Five confessed to actually violating Meili, but they agreed they helped restrain her. Later, they would all claim these confessions had been coerced - or outright forced - out of them, but it was too late - the Central Park Five were on their way to trial.
In his purchased ad space, Trump reasoned, “Mayor Koch has stated that hate and rancor should be removed from our hearts. I do not think so. I want to hate these muggers and murderers.”
In an interview with Larry King, Trump doubled down by stating, “Maybe hate is what we need if we're gonna get something done.”
Trump also proposed bringing back a stronger police force, saying, “I am also in favor bringing back police forces that can do something instead of turning their back because every quality lawyer that represents people that are trouble, the first thing they do is start shouting police brutality, etc.”
From the onset, the trial and media coverage surrounding the Central Park Five was racially tinged. The crime in question was an attack on a white woman that had allegedly been committed by a group of minority youths, and the language used in Donald Trump’s ad only served to emphasize this element of the care. Other prominent voices rose up calling for vigilante justice, including Pat Buchanan, who called for the Five to be “tried, convicted, and hanged in Central Park by June 1.” New Yorkers were already experiencing a difficult period in race relations, and this incident only served to further fan the flames of hatred.