Trump’s Idea of ‘Law and Order’ Hasn’t Changed Since 1989—Including Racism and Violence

by Mark Sumner –

trump central park new york daily news

In 1989, a 28-year-old woman was chased down, raped, and brutally beaten in New York’s Central Park. The assault left her in a coma with a fractured skull. She wasn’t expected to live. When she eventually woke from her coma two weeks later, she had no memory of her assault. She was an investment banker at Salomon Brothers, with a Yale degree and a promising career. She was white.

On the night of the incident, a large number of teenagers were in the park, several of them suspected gang members. A number of beatings and robberies that occurred that night were attributed to this group. Shortly after the discovery of the unconscious woman, police apprehended four black and one hispanic teenager who had been in the area, held them for hours with neither parents nor lawyers present, and eventually convinced all of them to confess not only to the other assaults, but some level of involvement in the rape and beating of the woman who became known as “the Central Park jogger.”

All of the teenagers later pled not guilty, complaining that the police forced the confessions, but they were all convicted in a series of trials. The brutality of the jogger case, and the number of other attacks that evening, drove a wave of fear and a media frenzy.

Into the middle of this waded Donald J. Trump.

Trump spent $85,000 for a full page ad in the New York Daily News with “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!” blazoned across half the page. The ad pressed the idea that the police had been robbed of their authority. Trump lovingly recalled an incident in which police had physically assaulted two men for cursing at a waitress, said he missed “that feeling of security” and that he “wanted to hate” those involved with the assaults in the park.

Let our politicians give back our police department’s power to keep us safe. unshackle them from the constant chant of “police brutality” which every petty criminal hurls immediately at an officer who has just risked his or her life to save another’s. We must cease our continuous pandering to the criminal population of this city. Give New York back to the citizens who have earned the right to be New Yorkers. Send a message loud and clear to those who would murder our citizens and terrorize New York — BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY AND BRING BACK OUR POLICE!

It wasn’t until 2001 that a convicted serial rapist came forward to say that he alone had carried out the attack on the jogger. Even then, the city conducted an investigation that concluded that the teenagers were involved even though the only DNA evidence pointed to Reyes. It took more than a year, but eventually the convictions were vacated. As part of his 2013 campaign, Bill de Blasio promised to settle the case, and the City of New York settled with the five men in 2014.

But it wasn’t over for Trump.

Even in 2014, Donald Trump called settling the case “a disgrace.” He argued that, even if the men involved hadn’t been involved in the crime for which they had been convicted, that didn’t mean they were innocent.

Speak to the detectives on the case and try listening to the facts. These young men do not exactly have the pasts of angels.

In this one case, you have everything that defines Trump’s “law and order” campaign today. There’s a call to “unshackle” the police from charges of brutality, arbitrary arrests of young black men and lengthy sentences based on coerced confessions without representation. There’s a willingness to disregard physical evidence in obtaining conviction, and to ignore a voluntary confession when it gets in the way of the prosecution’s narrative. It’s the idea of some people having “earned” their rights while others had not and the all too familiar statement that the teens had been no “angels.” It’s a script that could be, and has been, applied to far too many incidents over the 27 years since the Central Park jogger case.

Donald Trump’s attitudes certainly haven’t changed—though his vocabulary has been considerably reduced. The speech Trump delivered in Milwaukee to lecture blacks while speaking in front of an almost completely white audience, followed exactly these lines.

That Trump and his followers are sneering at Black Lives Matter, celebrating incidents of police killings of young black men, and calling for minorities to sit down and show respect should surprise no one. It’s where he’s always been.

Trump isn’t alone in these ideas. Of course he has Rudy Giuliani to declare Trump’s threatening speech the best ever delivered. He had the whole RNC to cheer the news of police avoiding charges in the Freddie Gray case.  And he has friends in the Senate ready to help him bring his beat-them-till-they-like-it vision to fruition.

Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, a prominent surrogate for Republican nominee Donald Trump, says Trump’s 1989 newspaper ads advocating the death penalty for five men of color accused of raping a jogger in Central Park show that he has always been a believer in law and order.

“That speech was great, and Trump has always been this way,” Sessions, who was the first member of Congress to endorse Trump, said on the Matt & Aunie show on WAPI radio. “He bought an ad — people say he wasn’t a conservative — but he bought an ad 20 years ago in the New York Times calling for the death penalty. How many people in New York, that liberal bastion, were willing to do something like that?”

Not many. And fewer still who would be proud of it.

As an aside, the incidence in Central Park brought public attention to the term “wilding” and to the idea that there were rogue groups of teenagers, roaming cities and attacking without remorse. This idea was played up both in the news and in fiction over the next decade.

It played into the concept of “super predator” teens pushed by criminologist John DiIulio. DiIulio made a presentation to President Clinton in 1995 that predicted a coming wave of these teens who killed or maimed on impulse, with no motive. That idea was then repeated by Hillary Clinton in a 1996 speech defending Bill Clinton’s crime bill.

The trouble was—it wasn’t true. Juvenile crime rates fell, and five years after the crime bill was passed, came evidence that the five were not involved in the attack on the jogger.

The crime bill had awful effects in terms of increasing the incarceration rate among young men of color. Hillary Clinton has apologized for her use of the super-predator term and recognized that there’s an inherent racism in the ideas that were being pressed at the time.

Donald Trump feels no such regret.


Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos