In 1989, it didn’t take much for then-New York real estate mogul Donald Trump to condemn five Harlem teenagers who were accused of attacking and brutally raping a white woman who was jogging one summer night in Central Park. As a matter of fact, rather than seeking due process for those charged, he publicly called for their deaths— echoing nationwide anger directed at the Black and Latino youths.
The now-infamous “Central Park Jogger” case centering on five young men of color who became known as the Central Park Five. The sensational case sent the city into a fever pitch over youth wilding, urban crime and what many saw as the need for swift justice. Among the loudest voices was Donald Trump’s who took out advertisements in New York’s four daily newspapers, most notably the in New York Times, saying the death penalty should be reinstated in the state specifically to deal with the accused.
In a tweet last Saturday, Trump asked: “Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process.”
Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 10, 2018
That seemingly hypocritical response angered Raymond Santana, who was one of the young men wrongfully convicted and sentenced in that 1989 case. Although those convictions were later overturned and vacated in December 2002, Santana spent five years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
Since being released, life has been anything but easy for the group. While they try to move past the pain, Trump has continued to lambast them in the media. During his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump made a statement to CNN insisting “they admitted they were guilty,” referring to the teenagers’ confessions, which they have said were made under extreme coercion by police detectives pushing for a quick arrest in the high-profile case.
Santana, who started Park Madison NYC, a lifestyle fashion line in 2015, took to Twitter to respond to the President’s tweet on Saturday saying, “You should have spoke like that back in 1989…you called for the death penalty. We were 14 & 15 year old kids.”
— The central park 5 (@santanaraymond) February 10, 2018
Due process, Santana believes, was something Trump did not want for him or his friends back in 1989. And he says Trump continued to bully them in the years since they have been released.
“Here is a man who can sit there and take out $85,000 in ads calling to reinstate the death penalty specifically for us,” said Santana in an exclusive interview with theGrio. “For him now to sit there and say give them (Porter and Sorensen) due process, it goes to show this has always been his character.”
Each of the young men in the Central Park jogger case, ranging in age 14-16 years old at the time of their arrest, were to serve full sentences ranging from 6 to 13 years beginning in 1990. But, 12 years later, Matias Reyes, who was already in prison for a series of violent rapes, confessed that he was the man who attacked the jogger. The convictions of Santana along with Yusuf Salaam, Korey Wise, Antron McCray and Kevin Richardson were overturned.
It, however, took until 2014 for New York City to compensate them for time wrongfully served and the men settled for $41 million, which Trump made no hesitation to blast, calling it a “disgrace.”
“As a long-time resident of New York City, I think it is ridiculous for this case to be settled,” he wrote in a New York Daily News op-ed at the time that the settlement had been reached.
Santana maintains that Trump continues to show patterns of racism and bias against the five men, each now in their 40s and believes that the president’s behavior shows the rest of the country what kind of man is sitting in the White House.
“He sits in one of the most powerful seats in the world and this exposes who he is,” said Santana. “At the end of the day, he has given the country enough ammunition to see who he really is. When do people, even people who voted for him, learn that they’ve been led astray?”
Yusuf Salaam, a co-defendant in the case whose sentence was also overturned, told MSNBC last weekend that while the five young men at the center of the case were never let off the hook, Trump insists on giving his staffers the benefit of the doubt.
“We were not able to move on with our lives,” Salaam said, noting the irony of Trump’s protectionist attitude while comparing their case to the Scottsboro Boys of the 1930s where nine Black boys between the ages of 13 to 19 were accused and falsely imprisoned for raping a white woman (who later recanted her accusation.)
“Our lives were completely destroyed and devastated. Any kind of dream or idea or goal that we had to be anything in life was quickly erased by this accusation.”
Despite the settlement, life has been anything but easy for the group. During his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump made a statement to CNN insisting “they admitted they were guilty,” referring to the teenagers’ confessions, which they have said were made under extreme coercion by police detectives pushing for a quick arrest in the high-profile case.
Trump has never apologized to the men or reversed his position.
The Central Park Five live with the constant knowledge that a man who called for their death without due process is now President of the United States. And while the monetary settlement has improved his life in some ways, Santana says it’s not all about the money.
“I can make sure my kids have a future and that they don’t have to rely on anybody else,” said Santana. “But for what we had to go through, money doesn’t mean anything. It’s not fine and it never will be fine. Money isn’t always the answer to everything. It’s a one day at a time process. It’s not easily healed. You can’t just put a Band-Aid over it.”