The recent release of Netflix miniseries “When They See Us” has led to renewed interest in the so-called Central Park Five, a group of young African-American teenagers who were sent to prison for allegedly raping a white woman who was jogging in Central Park in 1989 — and were ultimately exonerated by DNA evidence years later.
The miniseries, from exec producer Ava DuVernay, dramatizes the shameful story of how New York City was enflamed by the crime, with police and prosecutors railroading the young men in order to close a case that had become a media sensation.
As it happened, the man who would become America’s 45th president played a role in the teenagers being falsely convicted, taking out full-page ads in NYC newspapers calling for the return of the death penalty in order to see the young men executed.
Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, reporter April Ryan asked Trump if he wanted to apologize to the men, who spent a decade behind bars before being completely exonerated in 2002 when DNA evidence linked the crime to serial rapist and convicted murderer.
Despite the men being proven innocent and receiving a $41-million settlement from the city of New York, Trump implied he still thinks they’re guilty.
“You have people on both sides of that,” said Trump, echoing the disturbing phrase he used to excuse the behaviour of white supremacists during the 2017 protests in Charlottesville.
“They admitted their guilt,” Trump added. “If you look at [former prosecutor] Linda Fairstein, you look at some of the prosecutors, they think that the city should never have settled that case, so we’ll leave it at that.”
Fairstein, portrayed by Felicity Huffman in the miniseries, was the head of the sex crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office at the time, and is depicted as being convinced of their guilt without any evidence to back it up, in addition to coercing them into confessing to the crime.
While Fairstein — who went on to become a bestselling novelist — refutes her portrayal in “When They See Us”, renewed interest in the case has led her to be viewed as toxic; not only was she dumped by her publisher, she was also forced to resign from the board of Vassar College.
On Tuesday night, at a screening of her series in Los Angeles, DuVernay spoke to The Los Angeles Times about Trump’s comments.
“It’s expected. There’s nothing he says or does in relation to this case or the lives of black people or people of colour that has any weight to it. It’s not our reality, there’s no truth to it,” she said.
DuVernay also posted a clip from the series on Twitter in which the character watches Trump on TV speaking out against the Central Park Five.