On April 19, 1989, 28-year-old investment banker Trisha Meili, a white woman, was jogging in Manhattan's Central Park when she was hit over the head with a rock, tied-up, gagged, and raped. It was a crime that would shock the nation, and deepen the already rancorous divisions in racially divided New York. Then along came Donald Trump.
Using $85,000 in spare change, the billionaire real estate developer took out full page ads in four of New York city's newspapers, including the New York Times.
“Bring back the death penalty. Bring back our police!” the ads read. They were a thinly-veiled reference to the suspected perpetrators of the crime, 15-year-old Yusef Salaam, 14-year-old Raymond Santana, 14-year-old Kevin Richardson, 15-year-old Antron McCray and 16-year-old Korey Wise.
Four of the boys were black, one was Latino.
In other words, they were black and brown children who had allegedly assaulted a white woman.
The boys, who confessed after several hours of sleep deprivation, interrogation, and beatings by the NYPD, were found guilty and given sentences of five to fifteen years in prison.
In 2002, Matias Reyes, a murderer and serial rapist already serving a life sentence in prison, came forward and admitted to the crimes. DNA evidence confirmed he was the sole perpetrator.
By then, the boys had already spent seven years in prison. Although they won a $41 million dollar settlement, the damage was done.
Trump never apologized, and even now, still says the boys were guilty.
Yusef Salaam believes Trump is partly to blame for their false imprisonment. “He was the fire starter,” Salaam said to The Guardian. “Common citizens were being manipulated and swayed into believing that we were guilty.”
Michael D’Antonio, who wrote The Truth About Trump agrees.
“He has this penchant for what you might call otherising,” D’Antonio said. “I think he knew what he was doing by taking a side, and I think he knew he was aligning himself with law and order, especially white law and order. I don’t think that he was consciously saying ‘I’d like to whip up racial animosity’, but his impulse is to run into conflict and controversy rather than try to help people understand what might be going on in a reasoned way.”
It's an impulse he still has today.
On Tuesday, Sayfullo Saipov, an immigrant from Uzbekistan plowed into a crowded bike path in Manhattan, killing eight people and injuring 11. ISIS later claimed responsibility for the attacks, and Saipov, who survived, reportedly asked for an ISIS flag in his room.
It was a national tragedy, and a horrific moment for the nation.