The lives of five black teenage boys and one woman were irrevocably changed on the evening of April 19, 1989 in New York City.
Trisha Meili, a 28-year-old investment banker, was beaten, raped, and left for dead in Central Park. There were no witnesses to the brutal attack and Meili had no memory of it. A group of five teenage boys who were in the park at the time would later be arrested for the assault.
The boys, now known as the Central Park Five, were rounded up, interrogated by the police at length, and forced to confess to the rape. The case exacerbated racial tension in the city, with the teenage boys often described as “park marauders,” the “roving gang,” the “crazed misfits.”
A couple of weeks after the attack, the real-estate developer Donald Trump reportedly paid $85,000 to take out advertising space in four of the city’s newspapers, with the headline: “Bring Back The Death Penalty. Bring Back Our Police!” The boys’ lawyer, Michael Warren, told the Guardian that Trump and his ad “poisoned the minds of many people who lived in New York and who, rightfully, had a natural affinity for the victim.”
Only the Central Park Five did not do the crime. In 2002, convicted serial rapist and murderer Matias Reyes, who was already serving life in prison, would confess to the crime, saying he alone raped Meili. The teenage boys, now men scarred by as many as 13 years in prison, were exonerated. Their ordeal was detailed in the PBS documentary The Central Park Five, which looked at the systematic failures that resulted in their conviction. The city paid the Central Park Five a $40 million settlement.
Despite this, Trump—now a candidate for president—still won’t believe the Central Park Five were wrongly convicted. (Trump’s comments on the matter were largely overshadowed by the lewd comments he made, in a video unearthed from 2005, over the weekend.)
“They admitted they were guilty,” Trump said this week in a statement to CNN. “The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous. And the woman, so badly injured, will never be the same.”
Since his boasts about grabbing women “by the pussy,” the Republican Party has largely distanced themselves from Trump, but remained silent on his attack on five innocent black men. Only senator John McCain acknowledged Trump’s “outrageous statements about the innocent men” in the Central Park Five case.
One of the exonerated men, Raymond Santana, has hit back at Trump: