What will Trump do to 11 million people he deems criminals?

Our president promised hundreds of times in the election campaign that he would deport every illegal alien in America. He has tried several times to start that massive eviction. Federal courts have twice struck down those orders until a trial vets them. It should be no surprise a man without domestic or international political experience still plays the fear card with the Central Park Five.  

Five black teenage boys each did many years in prison for a brutal rape they did not commit against a white woman. Sarah Burns has written a beautiful book and co-directed a powerful film about that miscarriage of justice. Just before the national election, she warned of the man who could and now probably will make every private prison firm immensely profitable. 

By Chris Dornin, co-founder, Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform

Why Trump Doubled Down on the Central Park Five

By Sarah Burns   Oct. 17, 2016 The Opinion Pages  Op-Ed contributor  New York Times 

Donald J. Trump rarely apologizes. When it comes to the case of the Central Park Five, he has never even come close.

In 1989, after these black and Latino teenagers from Harlem were accused of assaulting and raping a white woman in Central Park, Mr. Trump spent $85,000 placing full-page ads in the four daily papers in New York City, calling for the return of the death penalty.

“Muggers and murderers,” he wrote, “should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes.” Though he didn’t refer to the teenagers by name, it was clear to anyone in the city that he was referring to them.

Incredibly, 14 years after their sentences were vacated based on DNA evidence and the detailed and accurate confession of a serial rapist named Matias Reyes, Mr. Trump has doubled down.

“They admitted they were guilty,” he said in a statement to CNN this month. “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.”

Mr. Trump is apparently ignorant of our country’s epidemic of wrongful convictions, which disproportionately affect minorities, and the prevalence of false confessions in those convictions.

He isn’t alone. There has been a persistent drumbeat since the sentences were vacated that the Central Park Five were guilty either of rape or of some other crime that night. A 2003 New York Police Department review reached the conclusion that the boys were “likely guilty” of an initial assault on the jogger, even if they didn’t commit the rape. Linda Fairstein, who oversaw the sex crime unit in the Manhattan district attorney’s office at the time, maintains that the jury reached the correct verdict.

Online, the case against the Central Park Five has become a meme about liberal disregard for law and order, or as the conservative columnist Ann Coulter argued, “liberals are opposed to rape in the abstract, but when it comes to actual rapists, they’re all for them.”

Why the continued belief in the guilt of the Central Park Five, despite all the evidence to the contrary? Race and racism surely play their role. So does the cognitive trap that psychologists call anchoring and what we call first impressions: Mr. Trump quickly jumped to conclusions about their guilt, as did many in New York City.

And, as Mr. Trump pointed out, four of the five teenagers did confess to being at the scene of the rape. But false confessions are surprisingly common in criminal cases. In the hundreds of post-conviction DNA exonerations that the Innocence Project has studied, at least one in four of the wrongly convicted had given a confession.

In the case of the Central Park attack, the confessions were the only real evidence. DNA testing, a nascent technology in 1989, was used to compare a single sample found on the victim with the profiles of not only the Central Park Five, but also of many of the other kids they had been with in the park. There were no matches. The victim, when she awoke from a coma, had no memory of the attack.

That left only the statements from four of the teenagers: Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Korey Wise and Antron McCray. The fifth, Yusef Salaam, might have confessed, but his mother interrupted the interrogation before he signed anything. A detective was nonetheless allowed to testify that Mr. Salaam had admitted to participating, though he’d given no formal statement.

From the relative comfort of the jury box or Trump Tower, it may be hard to imagine why anyone would admit to a crime he didn’t commit. The power imbalance in an interrogation room is extreme, especially when the suspects are young teenagers, afraid of the police and unfamiliar with the justice system or their rights.

The teenagers faced hours of intense interrogations with no lawyers present and often with no parent or guardian, even though they were just 14, 15 and 16 years old. They were denied food, drink and sleep over many hours. And they were terrified.

The young men were all led to believe that they would be allowed to go home only if they said what the police wanted to hear. The four who gave statements admitted to having been present but blamed others for the rape, which they naïvely thought would not incriminate them.

The “confessions” were riddled with problems. As the district attorney’s office later found, the statements “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.”

Mr. Trump has also suggested that the teenagers were guilty of something that night because, as he wrote in an editorial for The New York Daily News in 2014, “these young men do not exactly have the pasts of angels.”

None of the Central Park Five had ever been arrested before, so Mr. Trump’s reference to their pasts has no basis in truth. The five were in the park that night, but they maintain that they did not participate in other attacks, and there is no evidence that they did.

So we are left with Mr. Trump’s presumption that because they were black and brown teenagers from Harlem, they must have committed a crime. The idea that teenagers who were in a park while crimes were being committed by others deserved to be labeled rapists and sent to prison for between 8 and 13 years is an affront to our Constitution.

Mr. Trump owes many people overdue apologies. At the top of his growing list should be Mr. McCray, Mr. Wise, Mr. Salaam, Mr. Santana and Mr. Richardson. They were victims of a rush to judgment 27 years ago. They shouldn’t still be.

Sarah Burns co-wrote and co-directed the documentary “The Central Park Five.”

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on this page are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position of CCJR.the views and opinions expressed on this page are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position of CCJR.