Myiti Sengstacke, African American Studies Instructor
City Colleges of Chicago, Kennedy-King College
Michelle R. Yisrael, Reading, English & Literature
City Colleges of Chicago, Kennedy-King College
To investigate how intense media coverage of the case created racial criminalization of six minority youth.
How did media coverage of the Central Park Jogger Case create enough racial dissention to criminalize six minority youth?
Students will be able to…
- Think critically about news content.
- Examine the formation of stories and how they are made.
- Evaluate news reporting vs. editorializing
- Analyze inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, as it relates to behavioral decisions and attitude change.
News Literacy terms to be incorporated:
- Direct evidence
- Indirect evidence
- Conflicting truths
- Fairness vs. Justice
- Cognitive Dissonance
Introducing the Lesson:
On April 19, 1989 in New York City’s Central Park, a 28 year old White female jogger, was attached, raped, beaten, sodomized, and left for dead. She was left comatose for 12 days. The case was widely publicized and attracted nationwide attention. Four African American males and one Hispanic youth were tried for the crime and convinced by two separate juries. Trisha Meili, the Central Park jogger, could not remember her attackers. They received sentences ranging from 5-15 years. Antron McCary, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise, and Yself Salaam “confessed” to the crime by implicating one another. After spending their remaining teen years as well as their early adult years in prison, they boys spent between 5-13 years in prison for the heinous crime, but were later exonerated.
- Why did the boys go to the park in the first place? What were the more than mischievous events that happened in the park that night?
- How involved were they in the events which led to the crime that took place in the park that night?
- What impressions do you get about the large group’s behavior that night? Based on the facts, why do you feel that way?
- (After a second viewing of the film’s introduction) Write a list of the information you saw and heard in the news clips. Using this evidence, write a short explanation of what you think was on the minds of New Yorkers at that time. Share your explanations.
- How did the investigators get the boys to implecate themselves in the crime?
- What role do you think an inadequate educational system, unemployment, and systemic institutionalized racism played in the conviction of the Central Park 5?
- How did the criminal justice system fail the Central Park five?
- How did the accusation of a White women being raped by minority males affect the fears and prejudices already existing?
- How does the Central Park jogger case stand as a cautionary tale about what can happen to young people from African American and Latino communities at the hands of the police and other elements of the criminal justice system?
- If the Black Lives Matter movement existed during the time the Central Park five were convicted, how could the movement have helped?
- Of what rights should we be aware? What should we ensure youth know about their rights?
- How did the connotations of these terms used by the media affect the case? Characterizing the suspects:
- “Rampaging in Wolf Packs,”
- “Wolf Pack’s Prey”
Characterizing the victim:
- “Lived a Dream#Life,”
- “Golden Girl,”
- “Female Jogger near Death after Savage Attack by Roving Gang”
Characterizing the crime:
- “Central#Park Horror,”
- “Nightmare in Central Park”
- “Wolf Pack Ignored Her Cries,
- “Called It Fun”
13. How does the Trayvon Martin case of 2012 compare and contrast to the Emiitt Tiill case from 1955?
Historical Link & Whole Group Discussion:
Videos to link the lesson:
Write an Essay:
Choose one topic and for your essay.
- What role do you think the environment in which they were reared played in the conviction of the Central Park 5?
- How can peer pressure lead to the devastating life events?
- How do people in urban areas cope with life when the environment is similar to the environment in which the Central Park 5 were reared?
Peer Review & Collaboration:
If you were a city official in an urban area where crime is rampant, what would you do to improve your city? Working with your group, create a sustainable action plan.
Present your group’s sustainable action plan to the large group.
"Central Park Five" redirects here. For the documentary film, see The Central Park Five.
|Date||April 19, 1989 (1989-04-19)|
|Time||9–10 p.m. (EST)|
|Location||Central Park, New York City|
|Non-fatal injuries||Trisha Ellen Meili and others|
|Suspect(s)||11; 6 pled guilty|
|Verdict||5–10 to 5–15 years in prison|
|Convictions||Five suspects served between 6 and 13 years in prison; four appealed unsuccessfully|
|Litigation||Five suspects sued for emotional distress and received $41 million from the city as of 2014|
|Five convictions were vacated in 2002 and the charges were withdrawn; an alternate perpetrator was identified.|
The Central Park jogger case was a major news story that involved the assault, rape, and sodomy of Trisha Meili, a white female jogger, and attacks on others in Manhattan's Central Park on the night of April 19, 1989. The attack on the jogger left her in a coma for 12 days. Meili was a 28-year-old investment banker at the time. According to The New York Times, the attacks were "one of the most widely publicized crimes of the 1980s". The crime spawned use of the term "wilding," which is the unprovoked gang assault on a stranger.
On the night of the attack, five juvenile males—four black and one of Hispanic descent—were apprehended in connection with a number of attacks in Central Park committed by around 30 teenage perpetrators. The defendants were tried variously for assault, robbery, riot, rape, sexual abuse, and attempted murder relating to Meili's attack and the other attacks in the park, based solely on confessions that they said were coerced and false. Before the trial, the FBI tested the DNA of the rape kit and found it did not match to any of the tested suspects. The office of District Attorney Robert Morgenthau presented these findings to the press as "inconclusive". They were convicted in 1990 by juries in two separate trials. Subsequently, known as the Central Park Five, they received sentences ranging from 5 to 15 years. Four of the convictions were appealed and the convictions were affirmed by appellate courts. The defendants spent between 6 and 13 years in prison.
In 2002, Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and serial rapist in prison, confessed to raping the jogger, and DNA evidence confirmed his guilt. He knew facts about the crime that only the offender could have known and also said he committed the rape alone. At the time of his confession, Reyes was already serving a life sentence. He was not prosecuted for raping Meili, because the statute of limitations had passed by the time he confessed. Morgenthau suggested to the court that the five men's convictions related to the assault and rape of Meili and to attacks on others to which they had confessed be vacated (a legal position in which the parties are treated as though no trial has taken place) and withdrew the charges. Their convictions were vacated in 2002.
The five convicted men sued New York City in 2003 for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination, and emotional distress. The city refused to settle the suits for a decade under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, because the city's lawyers felt they would win. However, after Bill de Blasio became mayor and supported the settlement, the city settled the case for $41 million in 2014. As of December 2014, the five men were pursuing an additional $52 million in damages from New York State in the New York Court of Claims.
At 9 p.m. on the night of April 19, 1989, a group of over 30 teenagers who lived in East Harlem entered Manhattan's Central Park at an entrance in Harlem, near Central Park North. They committed several attacks, assaults, and robberies in the northernmost part of Manhattan's Central Park. According to The New York Times, the attacks committed that night were "one of the most widely publicized crimes of the 1980s". According to a police investigation, the main suspects were gangs of teenagers who would assault strangers as part of an activity that became known as "wilding". New York City detectives said the term was used by the suspects themselves to describe their actions to police. This account has been disputed by some journalists, who say that it originated in a police detective's misunderstanding of the suspects' use of the phrase "doing the wild thing", lyrics from rapper Tone Lōc's hit song "Wild Thing".
The teenagers attacked and beat people as they moved south, on the park's East Drive and the 97th Street Transverse, between 9 pm and 10 pm. Between 102nd and 105th Streets they attacked several bicyclists, hurled rocks at a cab, and attacked a man who was walking, whom they knocked to the ground, assaulted, robbed, and left unconscious. A schoolteacher out for a run was severely beaten and kicked between 9:40 and 9:50. Then, at about 10 p.m. at the northwest end of the Central Park Reservoir running track, they attacked another jogger, hitting him in the back of the head with a pipe and stick. They pummeled two men into unconsciousness, hitting them with a metal pipe, stones, and punches, and kicking them in the head. A police officer testified that one male jogger, who said he had been jumped by four or five black youths, was bleeding so badly he "looked like he was dunked in a bucket of blood".
Assault on Trisha Meili
Trisha Meili was going for a run on her usual path in Central Park shortly before 9 p.m. While jogging in the park, she was knocked down, dragged or chased nearly 300 feet (91 m), and violently assaulted. She was stabbed five times, raped, sodomized, and almost beaten to death. About four hours later at 1:30 a.m., she was found naked, gagged, tied up, and covered in mud and blood. Meili was discovered in a shallow ravine in a wooded area of the park about 300 feet north of the 102nd Street Transverse. The first policeman who saw her said: "She was beaten as badly as anybody I've ever seen beaten. She looked like she was tortured."
She was comatose for 12 days. She suffered severe hypothermia, severe brain damage, Class 4 (the most severe) hemorrhagic shock, and loss of 75–80 percent of her blood from five deep stab wounds and a gash on one of her thighs, and internal bleeding. Her skull had been fractured so badly that her left eye was dislodged from its socket, which in turn was fractured in 21 places, and she suffered as well from facial fractures.
The initial medical prognosis was that Meili would succumb to her injuries and die. She was given last rites. The police initially listed the attack as a probable homicide. At best, doctors thought that she would remain in a permanent coma due to her injuries. She came out of her coma 12 days after her attack, and spent seven weeks in Metropolitan Hospital in East Harlem. When she initially emerged from her coma, she was unable to talk, read, or walk. In early June, she was transferred to Gaylord Hospital, a long-term acute care center in Wallingford, Connecticut, where she spent six months in rehabilitation. She was first able to walk again in mid-July. She returned to work eight months after the attack. Remarkably, she largely recovered, with some lingering disabilities related to balance and loss of vision. As a result of the severe trauma, she had no memory of the attack or of any events up to an hour before the assault, nor of the six weeks following the attack.
The crime was unique in the level of public outrage it provoked. New York GovernorMario Cuomo told the New York Post: "This is the ultimate shriek of alarm."
Trisha Ellen Meili was born on June 24, 1960 in Paramus, New Jersey and raised in affluent Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh. She is the daughter and youngest of three children of John Meili, a Westinghouse senior manager, and his wife Jean, a school board member. She attended Upper St. Clair High School, graduating in 1978.
Meili was a Phi Beta Kappa economics major at Wellesley College, where she received a B.A. in 1982. The chairman of Wellesley's economics department said: "She was brilliant, probably one of the top four or five students of the decade." In 1986, she earned an M.A. from Yale and an M.B.A. in finance from the Yale School of Management. She worked from the summer of 1986 until the attack as an associate and then a vice president in the corporate finance department and energy group of Salomon Brothers.
Meili lived on East 83rd Street between York and East End Avenues on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. At the time of the attack, she was 28 years old and weighed less than 100 pounds (45 kg).
In most media accounts of the incident at that time, Meili was simply referred to as the "Central Park Jogger". However, two local TV stations violated media policy of not publicly identifying the victims of sex crimes and released her name in the days immediately following the attack. Two newspapers aimed at the African-American community—The City Sun and the Amsterdam News—and the black-owned talk radio station WLIB continued to do so as the case progressed. The Open Line hosts on WRKS were credited with helping continue to cover the case until the convicted youths were cleared of the crime.
In April 2003, Meili confirmed her identity to the media and published a memoir entitled I Am the Central Park Jogger. She then began a career as an inspirational speaker. She also works with victims of sexual assault and brain injury in the Mount Sinai sexual assault and violence intervention program. She continues to manifest some physiological after-effects of the assault, including memory loss.
Arrests and investigation
Arrest of five youth
The police were dispatched at 9:30 p.m. and responded with scooters and unmarked cars. They apprehended Raymond Santana and Kevin Richardson along with other teenagers at approximately 10:15 p.m. on Central Park West and 102nd Street. Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise were brought in for questioning later, after having been identified by other youths as participants in or present at some of the attacks.
The five juveniles were interviewed for hours. Santana, McCray, and Richardson all made video statements in the presence of their respective parents or guardians. Wise made a number of statements on his own, in accordance with the law. Salaam told the police he was 16 years old and showed them identification to prove it. If a suspect had reached 16 years of age, his parents or guardians no longer had a right to accompany him during police questioning, or to refuse to permit him to answer any questions. After Salaam's mother arrived, the police stopped the questioning, but Salaam's admissions were admitted into testimony.
Additionally, before the raped jogger was found, one of the other boys the police had rounded up, sitting in the back of a police car, blurted that he "didn't do the murder" and named Antron McCray as the perpetrator. Kevin Richardson, who was sitting beside him, immediately agreed, saying "Antron did it". Later, after Raymond Santana was interrogated about the rape and while he was being driven to another precinct, he on his own exclaimed: "I had nothing to do with the rape. All I did was feel her tits."
Normal police procedure stipulated that the names of criminal suspects under the age of 16 were to be withheld from the media and the public. This policy was ignored when the names of the arrested juveniles were released to the press before any of them had been formally arraigned or indicted, including one 14-year-old who was ultimately not charged. The media's decision to print the names, photos, and addresses of the juvenile suspects while withholding Meili's identity was cited by the editors of the City Sun and the Amsterdam News to explain their own continued use of Meili's name in their coverage of the story.
All five confessed to a number of the attacks committed in the park that night, and implicated one or more of the others. None of the five said they themselves actually raped the jogger, but each confessed to being an accomplice to the rape. All five said that they themselves had only helped restrain the jogger, or touched her, while one or more others raped her. Antron McCray said that a "Puerto Rican kid with a hoodie" had been the one who raped the jogger. While he was incarcerated in the Rikers Island jail, Korey Wise told the older sister of a friend of his, according to her testimony, that he'd only held the jogger down.
Yusef Salaam made verbal admissions, but refused to sign a confession or make one on videotape. However, Salaam was implicated by all of the other four, and convicted at trial. Six others were charged with committing crimes in the park that night as well. They pleaded guilty and received sentences of six months to four and a half years. On appeal, Salaam's supporters and attorneys charged that he had been held by police without access to parents or guardians. The majority appellate court decision noted that Salaam had initially lied to police in claiming to be 16, and he had backed up his claim with a transit pass that indeed (falsely, as it turned out) indicated that he was 16. When Salaam informed police of his true age, police permitted his mother to be present.
Analysis indicated that the DNA collected at the crime scene did not match any of the suspects, and that it had come from a single, as yet unknown person. Since no DNA evidence tied the suspects to the crime, the prosecution's case rested almost entirely on the confessions. One of the suspects' supporters, Reverend Calvin O. Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, told The New York Times, "The first thing you do in the United States of America when a white woman is raped is round up a bunch of black youths, and I think that's what happened here."
Although the suspects (except Salaam) had confessed on videotape in the presence of a parent or guardian, they retracted their statements within weeks, claiming that they had been intimidated, lied to, and coerced into making false confessions. Salaam confessed to being present only after the detective falsely told him that fingerprints had been found on the victim's clothing. According to Salaam, "I would hear them beating up Korey Wise in the next room", and "they would come and look at me and say: 'You realise you're next.' The fear made me feel really like I was not going to be able to make it out." While the confessions themselves were videotaped, the hours of interrogation that preceded the confessions were not.
In a first trial in August 1990, defendants Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, and Raymond Santana were acquitted of attempted murder, but convicted of rape, assault, robbery, and riot in the attacks on the jogger and others in Central Park that night. Salaam and McCray were 15 years old, and Santana 14 years old, at the time of the crime, and they received the maximum sentence allowed for juveniles, 5–10 years in a youth correctional facility. The jury, consisting of four whites, four blacks, four Hispanics, and an Asian, deliberated for 10 days before rendering its verdict.
The second trial ended in December 1990. Kevin Richardson, 14 years old at the time of the crime, was convicted of attempted murder, rape, assault, and robbery in the attacks on the joggers and others in the park, and sentenced to 5–10 years. Korey Wise, 16 years old at the time of the crime, was acquitted of those charges, but convicted of sexual abuse, assault, and riot in the attack on the jogger and others in the park, and sentenced to 5–15 years. After the verdict, Wise shouted at the prosecutor: "You’re going to pay for this. Jesus is going to get you. You made this up."
Meili took the stand during the trial and said afterwards: "I'll tell you what—I didn't feel wonderful about the boys' defense attorneys, especially the one who cross-examined me. He was right in front of my face and, in essence, calling me a slut by asking questions like 'When's the last time you had sex with your boyfriend?'" Wise's lawyer had also asked her whether she had been assaulted by men in her life, suggested that a man she knew may have attacked her, and implied her injuries were not as severe as they had been made out to be.
Jurors who were interviewed after the trial said that they were not convinced by the confessions, but were impressed by the physical evidence introduced by the prosecutors: semen, grass, dirt, and two hairs "consistent with" the victim's hair:6 recovered from Richardson's underpants. Four of the convictions were affirmed on appeal, while Santana did not appeal. The five defendants spent between six and 13 years in prison.
The case attracted nationwide attention and was the subject of many articles and books, both during the trials and after the convictions.
In 2001, convicted serial rapist and murderer Matias Reyes was already serving a life sentence for other crimes, but he was not at that point a suspect in the Central Park attack on Meili. Reyes met Wise in an upstate New York prison, the Auburn Correctional Facility. In 2002, Reyes declared that he was 17 years old on the night of April 19, 1989 when he assaulted and raped the jogger. He said that he had acted alone. At the time of the attack, he was working at an East Harlem bodega on Third Avenue and 102nd Street, and living in a van on the street. He provided a detailed account of the attack, details of which were corroborated by other evidence. The DNA evidence confirmed his participation in the rape, identifying him as the sole contributor of the semen found in and on the victim "to a factor of one in 6,000,000,000 people". DNA analysis of the strands of hair found in Richardson's underpants established that the hair did not belong to the victim. The victim had been tied up with her T-shirt in a distinctive fashion that Reyes used again on later victims.
Reyes was not prosecuted because the statute of limitations had passed, and thus his admissions did not place him at further risk. Reyes had been convicted of raping four other women and killing one of them, and a defense psychiatrist in his trial had concluded that Reyes was not capable of telling the truth.
Recommendation to vacate charges
Reyes's confession, plus DNA evidence confirming his participation in the rape, led the office of District AttorneyRobert M. Morgenthau to recommend vacating the convictions of the defendants originally found guilty and sentenced to prison. Supporters of the five defendants again claimed that their confessions had been coerced by police. An examination of the inconsistencies between their confessions led the prosecutor to question the veracity of their confessions. DA Morgenthau's office wrote:
A comparison of the statements reveals troubling discrepancies. ... The accounts given by the five defendants differed from one another on the specific details of virtually every major aspect of the crime—who initiated the attack, who knocked the victim down, who undressed her, who struck her, who held her, who raped her, what weapons were used in the course of the assault, and when in the sequence of events the attack took place. ... In many other respects the defendants' statements were not corroborated by, consistent with, or explanatory of objective, independent evidence. And some of what they said was simply contrary to established fact.
In light of the "extraordinary circumstances" of the case, DA Morgenthau also recommended that the court also vacate the convictions for the other crimes that night to which the defendants had confessed. His rationale was that the defendants' confessions to the other crimes were made at the same time and in the same statements as those related to the attack on Meili. Had the newly discovered evidence been available at the original trials, it might have made the juries question whether any part of the defendants' confessions were trustworthy.
Morgenthau's recommendation to vacate the convictions was strongly opposed by Linda Fairstein, who had overseen the original prosecution but had since left the District Attorney's Office. Despite the analysis conducted by the District Attorney's Office, New York City detectives maintained that the defendants had "most likely" been Reyes' accomplices in the assault and rape of Meili. The two doctors who treated her after she was attacked stated that some of her injuries were not consistent with Reyes' claim that he acted alone. (A forensic pathologist at the 1990 trial, and the New York City chief medical examiner in 2002, both concluded that it was impossible to tell from the victim's injuries how many people had participated in the assault.) Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly complained that Morgenthau's staff had denied his detectives access to "important evidence" needed to conduct a thorough investigation. This claim notwithstanding, no indictments, convictions or disciplinary actions were ever taken against District Attorney's office staff members.
The five defendants' convictions were vacated by New York Supreme Court Justice Charles J. Tejada on December 19, 2002. As Morgenthau recommended, Tejada's order vacated the convictions for all the crimes of which the defendants had been convicted. All of the defendants had completed their prison sentences at the time of Tejada's order, which only had the effect of clearing their names. One defendant, Santana, remained in jail, convicted of an unrelated later crime. His attorney said that his sentence had been extended in that case because of his conviction in the Meili attack. All five were removed from New York State's sex offender registry.
Aftermath of vacated convictions
In 2002, New York City Police CommissionerRaymond Kelly commissioned a panel of three lawyers to review the case. The panel was made up of two prominent lawyers, Michael F. Armstrong, the former chief counsel to the Knapp Commission that had investigated New York City police corruption in the 1970s, and Jules Martin, a New York University Vice President, as well as Stephen Hammerman, deputy police commissioner for legal affairs. The panel issued a 43-page report in January 2003.
The panel disputed Reyes's claim that he alone had raped the jogger. It insisted there was "nothing but his uncorroborated word" that he acted alone. Armstrong said the panel believed "the word of a serial rapist killer is not something to be heavily relied upon." The report concluded that the five men whose convictions had been vacated had "most likely" participated in the beating and rape of the jogger and that the "most likely scenario" was that "both the defendants and Reyes assaulted her, perhaps successively." The report said Reyes had most likely "either joined in the attack as it was ending or waited until the defendants had moved on to their next victims before descending upon her himself, raping her and inflicting upon her the brutal injuries that almost caused her death."
As to the five defendants, the report said:
We believe the inconsistencies contained in the various statements were not such as to destroy their reliability. On the other hand, there was a general consistency that ran through the defendants' descriptions of the attack on the female jogger: she was knocked down on the road, dragged into the woods, hit and molested by several defendants, sexually abused by some while others held her arms and legs, and left semiconscious in a state of undress.
"It seems impossible to say that they weren't there at all, because they knew too much," Armstrong said in an interview.
Lawsuits by original suspects
In 2003, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana Jr., and Antron McCray sued the city for $250 million for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination, and emotional distress. The city refused for a decade to settle the suits, saying that "the confessions that withstood intense scrutiny, in full and fair pretrial hearings and at two lengthy public trials" established probable cause. New York City lawyers under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg felt they would win the case.
While running for mayor of New York City in 2013, Bill de Blasio pledged to settle the case if he were to win the election. Filmmaker Ken Burns said in a November 2013 interview that Mayor–elect de Blasio had agreed to settle the lawsuit.
A settlement in the case for $41 million, supported by Mayor De Blasio, was approved by a federal judge on September 5, 2014. Santana, Salaam, McCray, and Richardson will each receive $7.1 million from the city for their years in prison, while Wise will receive $12.2 million. The city did not admit to any wrongdoing in the settlement. The settlement averaged roughly $1 million for each year of imprisonment for the men.
As of December 2014, the five men were pursuing an additional $52 million in damages from New York State in the New York Court of Claims, before Judge Alan Marin. Speaking of the second suit, against the state, Santana said: "When you have a person who has been exonerated of a crime, the city provides no services to transition him back to society. The only thing left is something like this—so you can receive some type of money so you can survive."
Main article: The Central Park Five
Ken Burns' daughter Sarah Burns and her husband David McMahon premiered The Central Park Five, a documentary film about the case, at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2012. It was inspired by Sarah Burns' undergraduate thesis on racism in media coverage of the event. Sarah Burns had worked for a summer as a paralegal in the office of one of the lawyers handling a lawsuit on behalf of those convicted of assaulting and raping the jogger. Ken Burns, who has compared the case to that of the Scottsboro Boys, said he hoped the film would push the city to settle the case against it.
On September 12, 2012, attorneys for New York City subpoenaed the production company for access to the original footage in connection with its defense of the federal lawsuit brought by some of the convicted youths against the city. Celeste Koeleveld, the city's executive assistant corporation counsel for public safety, justified the subpoena on the grounds that the film had "crossed the line from journalism to advocacy" for the wrongly convicted men. In February 2013, U.S. Judge Ronald L. Ellis quashed the city's subpoena.
Accusations by Donald Trump
On May 1, 1989, real estate magnate Donald Trump called for the return of the death penalty when he took out full-page advertisements in all four of the city's major newspapers. Trump said he wanted the "criminals of every age" who were accused of beating and raping a jogger in Central Park 12 days earlier "to be afraid". The advertisement, which cost an estimated $85,000, said, in part, "Mayor Koch has stated that hate and rancor should be removed from our hearts. I do not think so. I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer ... Yes, Mayor Koch, I want to hate these murderers and I always will. ... How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits? Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!"  In a 1989 interview with CNN, Trump said to Larry King: "The problem with our society is the victim has absolutely no rights and the criminal has unbelievable rights" and that "maybe hate is what we need if we're gonna get something done."
Lawyers for the five defendants said that Trump's advertisement had inflamed public opinion. After Reyes confessed to the crime and said he acted alone, one of the defendants' lawyers, Michael W. Warren, said, "I think Donald Trump at the very least owes a real apology to this community and to the young men and their families." Protests were held outside Trump Tower in October 2002 with protestors chanting, "Trump is a chump!" Trump was unapologetic at the time, saying, "I don't mind if they picket. I like pickets."
After the city announced in June 2014 that they would settle with the defendants for more than $40 million, Trump wrote an opinion article for the New York Daily News. He called the settlement "a disgrace" and said that the group's guilt was still likely: "Settling doesn't mean innocence. ... Speak to the detectives on the case and try listening to the facts. These young men do not exactly have the pasts of angels."
According to Yusef Salaam, Trump "was the fire starter", as "common citizens were being manipulated and swayed into believing that we were guilty." Salaam and his family received death threats after papers ran Trump's full-page ad. Warren argued that Trump's advertisements played a role in securing conviction, saying that "he poisoned the minds of many people who lived in New York City and who, rightfully, had a natural affinity for the victim," and that "notwithstanding the jurors' assertions that they could be fair and impartial, some of them or their families, who naturally have influence, had to be affected by the inflammatory rhetoric in the ads." The Guardian pointed out that the case and the media attention reflected the racial dynamics at the time; a similar case the same day in Brooklyn, involving a black woman who was raped and thrown from the roof of a four-story building, received little media attention.
In October 2016, when Trump campaigned to be president, he declared that the Central Park Five were guilty and stated that their convictions should never have been vacated. Trump told CNN: "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." Trump's statement attracted criticism from the Central Park Five themselves as well as others, including Republican U.S. Senator John McCain, who called Trump's responses "outrageous statements about the innocent men in the Central Park Five case" and cited it as one of many causes prompting him to retract his endorsement of Trump. Salaam said that he had falsely confessed out of coercion, after having been mistreated by police while in custody, deprived of food, drink or sleep for over 24 hours. Ken Burns called Trump's comments "the height of vulgarity" and racist.
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