Both qualities were on full display in a statement he made to CNN claiming that he still thinks the Central Park Five are guilty, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. “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,” Trump said. “And the woman, so badly injured, will never be the same.”
The Central Park Five—four black teenagers and one Latino teenager—were convicted of brutally raping and beating a jogger in Central Park in 1989. Trump was one of the most vocal New Yorkers calling for their heads, leading what amounted to a modern-day lynching. In a not so subtle message, he took out full-page ads in four major newspapers calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty.
In 2002, Matias Reyes, who had a lengthy criminal record including rape, confessed to the crime. DNA evidence corroborated this and led to the exoneration of the Central Park Five, who wasted their youth in jail. (They spent between seven and 13 years in prison.) In 2014, New York City reached a $41 million settlement with the five members of the group after a protracted legal battle.
One of the five, Yusef Salaam, has called on Trump to apologize. He told CNN that “had this been the 1950s, I would have had the same fate as Emmett Till. ... I would have been hung.” Trump’s rhetoric is consistent with his inability to admit fault, his refusal to recognize the implicit bias in the criminal justice system, and his unfortunate affinity for precisely the kind of racial fear and hatred that led to the death of Emmett Till.