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Donald Trump’s ad in the Daily News on May 1, 1989, and Donald Trump. (Photo: The Real Deal)

Memo to Media: Ask Trump If He’s a ‘Serial Racist’

Jeff Cohen

It’s easy to laugh off Donald Trump’s fact-free comments about Mexican immigrants being rapists. And easy to poke fun, as Jon Stewart did, at Trump’s grudging admission that some Mexican immigrants might be “good people.”

But there is a serious issue here, and mainstream media interviewers have neglected to ask Trump about it – and that’s Trump’s history of pointing the finger of rape at innocent men of color. I’m talking about his high-profile effort years ago that fanned racial tensions after perhaps the most notorious rape in New York City’s history.

In 1989, a white, female investment banker was viciously raped and nearly murdered while jogging in Central Park. Police quickly pinned the crime on five Black and Latino youths, aged 14 to 16, after extracting rape confessions (soon to be retracted). Mainstream media piled on behind the police – abandoning usual hedge words of “accused” or “alleged” – by referring to the accused rapists as a “wolf pack” and “park marauders.”

A racially-charged lynch mob had formed, and real estate mogul Donald Trump used his money to try to lead the mob.

A dozen days after the attack, as the 100-pound rape survivor emerged from a coma, Donald Trump bought a full-page ad in all four New York dailies with the banner headline:  “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!”

Trump’s ad spoke of “roving bands of wild criminals” who “roam our neighborhoods”; it decried a “permissive atmosphere which allows criminals of every age to beat and rape a helpless woman and then laugh . . .”

The ad blamed civil liberties concerns for permissiveness and, ultimately, the Central Park rape: “Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS” [capitalization in the original]. Trump called for killers to be “executed for their crimes.”

We know now – after the five convicted Harlem youths had collectively served more than 40 years in prison for the crime – that they had not raped anyone. Sarah and Ken Burns’ documentary, “The Central Park Five,” shows that the wrongful imprisonment resulted partly from police/prosecutorial misconduct and an abridging of the youths’ civil liberties.

Needless to say, if the youths whose alleged crime sparked Trump’s ad had been put to death, we would have had five more men of color innocently executed in our country.  

Thirteen years after the Central Park rape and Donald Trump’s full-page ad, it became clear – thanks to a jailhouse confession confirmed by DNA testing – that the culprit, acting alone, had been a convicted serial rapist.

A question journalists might pose to candidate Trump today, especially when he’s discussing the issue of rape: “Mr. Trump, are you a serial racist?”

Raymond Santana, who was 14 at the time of the Central Park rape and wrongfully served seven years in prison for it, is unlikely to get the apology he seeks from Trump for helping to fuel the frenzy: “It says a lot about [Trump’s] character,” said Santana. “If he can give the death penalty to 14-year-old, 15-year-old kids, then there’s nothing he would not do. Those are characteristics of a tyrant, not characteristics of a president.”


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Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen is an activist and author. Cohen was an associate professor of journalism and the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, founder of the media watch group FAIR, and former board member of Progressive Democrats of America. In 2002, he was a producer and pundit at MSNBC (overseen by NBC News). He is the author of "Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media" - and a co-founder of the online action group, www.RootsAction.org. His website is jeffcohen.org.

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