Donald Trump still refuses to recognize the innocence of the Central Park Five, a group of black and Latino teens wrongfully accused of brutally raping a jogger in New York’s famed park, 14 years after their exoneration.
Yusef Salaam, one of the Central Park Five, told CNN on Thursday that the group is still seeking an apology from the GOP nominee. After the woman’s story made headlines, Trump took out a full-page ad in the New York Daily News in 1989 with the headline “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!” even before the trial began.
But what followed was hardly an apology. In a statement to CNN, Trump said: “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. And the woman, so badly injured, will never be the same."
It’s true. The teens confessed to the crime under duress — including intense interrogation without access to food, water, or sleep. But their testimony was coerced. The actual rapist confessed in 2002, with DNA evidence that matched. The men were absolved of wrongdoing, after spending seven to 13 years in prison. The group sued the city of New York, reaching a $41 million settlement in 2014.
The case exemplified the ways America’s criminal justice system unfairly targets people of color. It also exemplified two of Trump’s key flaws: his flagrant bigotry and his inability to apologize even when faced with evidence demonstrating that he can’t be right beyond his wildest imaginings.
Trump’s campaign to “make America great again” over the past year has almost exclusively depended on making Black Lives Matter activists, Muslims, and immigrants enemy No. 1 to national security. Trump’s message has been likened to that of Richard Nixon in the 1968 campaign, who also advocated for “law and order” following the social unrest of the 1960s. But Trump is also simply echoing himself.
And despite the evidence, when the Central Park Five settlement was announced, Trump returned to the New York Daily News to write an editorial to prove he still wasn’t wrong: “Settling doesn’t mean innocence, but it indicates incompetence on several levels. This case has not been dormant, and many people have asked why it took so long to settle? It is politics at its lowest and worst form.”
As Vox’s Timothy Lee explained, Trump can’t (and won’t) admit when he’s made a mistake. But Trump touts himself as the law-and-order candidate, and by refusing to recognize when the law has wronged citizens, he sets a dangerous message that justice is not necessary to maintain social order.