In 1989 Donald Trump took out a full page ad in four New York City newspapers calling for the execution of the alleged rapists in the infamous Central Park Jogger case. Never mind that the five alleged assailants were all minors, or that rape wasn’t a capital crime. There was a moral panic to be stoked.
And stoked it was. New York’s media parted with their tradition of not publishing the names of minors accused of crimes. The case gave us the term “wilding”, described at the time as the name violent youth gangs gave their sprees of crime and terror, but which was most likely the result of an NYPD detective who misunderstood the lyrics to a Tone Lōc song. The case made national headlines, and fueled the growing myth of the super-predator, in which the law-and-order crowd terrified white suburbia with tales of a rising class of young, black uber-criminals. The explosion in violent juvenile crime predicted by the likes of William Bennett and John DiIulio, Jr. never happened.
If Trump had his way, all of the Central Park Five would have been dead by 2002. That’s the year Matias Reyes, already in prison for rape and murder, confessed to the crime, and insisted he acted alone. DNA tests had already confirmed that only one person raped victim Trisha Meili. Further testing showed Reyes was that person. Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morganthou later vacated the convictions of the other five suspects, all of whom had already served their sentences for the attack.
Now, one of the wrongly convicted, Raymond Santana, wants Trump the presidential candidate to apologize. From NY1:
Santana was 14 years old at the time. He says Trump’s call for the “death penalty” helped fuel the media firestorm before the suspects even went to trial.
“It says a lot about his character. If he can give the death penalty to 14-year-old, 15-year-old kids then there’s nothing he would not do. Those are characteristics of a tyrant, not characteristics of a president,” Santana said.
Santana served seven years in prison in connection with the rape and beating of Trisha Meili.
All five of the accused have sued the city. That lawsuit is still pending.