Trump's Stubbornness on the Central Park Five's Guilt a Warning to Criminal Justice Reformers

Not even DNA evidence can get him to change his mind.


Donald Trump
Keiko Hiromi/Polaris/Newscom

Donald Trump so famously believed in the guilt of five teenagers accused of beating and raping a jogger in Central Park in 1989 that he put out full-page advertisements in New York newspapers calling for the return of the death penalty in the state.

There was no evidence attaching the five young men to the crime, and they were convicted on the basis of confessions coerced after days of interrogations. It wasn't until 2002 that another man (who encountered one of the convicted men in prison) confessed to the crime. DNA evidence (which was not presented in the original trial) matched up. The five boys, now full-grown men, have been exonerated. They've gotten a settlement for $41 million from the city of New York.

Trump still thinks they're guilty. They confessed! The police said they were guilty! That's apparently what Trump recently told CNN in an interview:

"They admitted they were guilty," Trump said this week in a statement to CNN's Miguel Marquez. "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. And the woman, so badly injured, will never be the same."

Since Trump obviously still believes that the Central Park 5 are guilty, it cannot be said he is lying or even misleading. But he is undoubtedly holding steadfast to an opinion in the face of DNA evidence to the contrary and the fact that the Central Park 5 have been exonerated by the legal system.

One wonders if he even knows about the gentleman who confessed. According to the Innocence Project, one of our four people who have been convicted but are later exonerated due to DNA evidence have actually confessed to the crime. There are a whole host of reasons why the boys confessed their own involvement or that of their friends.

Trump's stubborn clinging to his snap conviction of the boys from back in 1989 should be considered a dire warning about any sort of possible criminal justice reform if the man were to become president. Concepts like reduced sentences, eliminating mandatory minimums, ending the unnecessary use of solitary confinement, increased commutations—all of these criminal justice reforms depend on people in positions of authority recognizing that their long-held concepts of judicial punishment are incorrect. In order to reform sentencing for harsher convictions for crimes connected to crack cocaine instead of powder, for example, one has to first acknowledge that the panic over crack cocaine was itself misguided and the overly harsh sentencing has not made the country safer.

But Trump is not willing to countenance the idea that he might have been wrong about the Central Park 5. He insists that the unconstitutional stop-and-frisk program in New York City helped reduce crime, though there's no evidence that it did anything of the sort, and crime continued to fall after the program ended.

Trump sees an out-of-control crime crisis where one does not currently exist. Perhaps his unwillingness to believe that these men were innocent of a crime is part of that mindset. Or perhaps it's a reflection of his general unwillingness to acknowledge being wrong. Either way, it's yet another reason to be concerned about how law enforcement policy would look under Trump.

NEXT: Gary Johnson Beating the Clinton-Trump Spread Across One-Third of the Country

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  1. Behold the Law and Order Candidate.

  2. I liked the Central Park Five’s first couple albums but after the drummer and bassist quit, they never quite reached the same level.

  3. There are a whole host of reasons why the boys confessed their own involvement or that of their friends.

    If they’re so terrible negotiators maybe they should be locked up.

    1. You misspelled “interrogatees.”

  4. Since Trump’s loss is a foregone conclusion I think maybe he wants to make history by being the first major party candidate to get zero percent of the black vote.

    1. +1 Don King

    2. I don’t know. There are some smart, well-informed people posting here who say he’s going to win!

  5. he’s still the lesser of two evils.

    1. If his performance as commander-in-chief is anything like his candidacy, he might just degrade the cachet of the office such that we re-evaluate the amount of power we allow to be vested in that branch.

      1. And that’s a good thing, of course.

        1. I agree. I think what we need is for someone to come in there and fuck things up so spectacularly that we come to realize how dangerous it is to amalgamate that much power in one individual’s hands. I suspect that the more intelligent among the Trump supporters are hoping for exactly that result.

          Hillary will, of course, calmly expand the power, all while looking “presidential,” and assuring us that her power is making us stronger, thus ensuring that we quietly walk ourselves down the road to serfdom.

          1. Jeebus. If we haven’t already Presidents fucking things up spectacularly enough already, what will it take?

            1. It will take Trump.

              1. I wouldn’t count on it. I’d sooner expect his election to cause his successor to ban elections and declare him/herself dictator for life with the approval of the public in order to prevent another Trump.

                1. Successor?

      2. Degrade the cachet of the office? Compared to whom? The one in there now?

        Have you been drinking? Perhaps you should start. Hell, I will even pour you one.

        1. Yet it’s not so degraded that we’re able to reduce its power. For that we’ll need Trump.

          I’ll take that drink.

          1. *Pours Bulleit 10 year in a Glencairn Crystal Whiskey Glass*

            1. *Drinks heartily*
              Thanks for pouring the good stuff.

    2. More Evil than Darrell Castle, less evil than every other candidate.

      1. Donald Trump is the worst candidate, except for all the others.

        1. For all his faults, Johnson still kicks the shit out of him.

          1. Johnson could barely kick the shit out of a flaming paper bag.

    3. Not really. If he’s the alternative than his supporters 100% deserve President Hillary Clinton. I will have to content myself with Hannity’s meltdown on Election Night.

      1. Ya think it’ll be as great as Karl Rove’s in 2012? I hope so.

  6. Trump still thinks they’re guilty.

    I dunno. I didn’t read the linked article, but the quoted part could be construed as Trump justifying his actions at the time (the newspaper ad). But whatever, TDS, etc.

    1. So true.

      Last week we were exposed to an article blasting police labs and their shoddy work.

      Today we are supposed to once again believe in their infallibility without question.*

      *I kinda tend to believe the original boys were railroaded into confessions by threats of life in a cage

      1. I doubt it’s the police labs doing DNA tests that would exonerate people the police insist are guilty.

        At the very least, it’s more convincing evidence than “they confessed and the police say they did it.”

        1. There was a post or article in Reason some years ago that I’m too lazy to look up claiming that DNA tests are far from infallible.

          1. I remember something about it not being very good positive evidence, but good for ruling someone out.


            1. because a sample could “match” a suspect, the suspect’s dad, brother, cousins….while a non-match conclusively indicates someone else as the culprit.

  7. Hillary said they’re super predators.

    1. That was before she ran for Prezzy and said that white people needed to shut up and listen to black people about systemic racism.…..s-working/

      When asked if she was pandering to blacks Clinton said yes and asked if it was working.

  8. According to the Innocence Project, one of our four people

    I sold my share years ago. They’re your problem now.

  9. He’s a decider! Make a decision and stick to it, even if it’s wrong. Even if you’ve only spent half a second thinking about it. Taking time to think about things implies you haven’t already thought about it and that implies you don’t already know everything. That makes you look weak and indecisive and dumb and that’s bad. Ask Donald Trump any question on any subject whatsoever and he’ll come back with not just a strong opinion but an opinion that’s backed by the fact that nobody knows more than he does about whatever the subject is under discussion. The infield fly rule? Kirk or Picard? The effect of European coffee consumption on the development of Honduran society? Hell – exothermic or endothermic? Your favorite non-Euclidian geometry? Doesn’t matter – he’ll answer any question confidently and forcefully and big-handedly.

    1. Good idea.
      Positive overall.

      1. You cis white shitlord. How can YOU support elliptics? Typical tReason cosmo. Clearly the best is hyperbolic cause it isn’t curve privileged.

        1. That’s just, like, your geometric opinion, man.

          1. *postulate.


    2. pretty much dead on.

      Trump – “Yeah, I’ve heard that. I’ve heard that. Well, I do ? I mean, I have a ? I have a very ? number one, you have to worry about safety. And it’s a little bit close to a very major population base so I’m gonna take a very strong look at it and I will come very strongly one way or the other. I will have an opinion.”

      1. yeah, but that lack of awareness will be drowned out by what he said in 2005.

    3. The ask him the same question a minute later and he’ll give the opposite answer just as enthusiastically, because he’s a good businessman and knows the importance of hedging his bets.

    1. I went with the wikipedia page. It’s not written by Ann Coulter, has citations, yet pretty much says the same thing.

    2. Thanks. This is why I come here

      1. You’re very welcome.

        1. I’ve never read this before.

          It changed my opinion posted above.

    3. DNA evidence or Ann Coulter? Gee what a tough choice.

      It’s saddening to see the levels people will sink to to defend their ‘lesser evil.’ Police railroading innocent men, maybe throw in Tawana Brawley and add rape culture to the mix and Papaya will still be all in if it’ll help him support uncle Donald.

  10. One wonders if he even knows about the gentleman who confessed

    Of course he doesn’t. Why is he even talking about this?

  11. And Obama’s commuting more non-violent drug sentences.

    What a year!

  12. From the linked CNN story:

    Trump did not specifically call for the youths charged in the jogger attack to be executed.

    I suggest anyone who is shocked Trump would still believe the 5 were guilty read an account of the case. Here’s a short one

    3 implicated themselves as accomplices to a sexual assault and “murder” when they were arrested near the scene before the police discovered the victim. Despite the coercive interrogation,none of the 5 confessed to raping the victim.

    1. We can’t let facts get in the way of a good Trump-bashing!

    2. Sounds like “more likely than not”. Not sure if it’s beyond a reasonable doubt.

      1. It was beyond a reasonable doubt to the jury that convicted them. The animals served their full juvenile sentences over it before the conviction was vacated.

        1. I mean with the DNA tests and additional witness/participant. Whether or not you think it clears them, it was new evidence, which changes things.
          I could change my mind if I saw all the evidence, but if there is someone who says he alone did it and he is the only one who could be definitively tied to the crim with physical evidence, that sounds like reasonable doubt to me.

      2. The Probably Guilty But Not Beyond A Reasonable Doubt Project didn’t get much funding.

  13. There are a whole host of reasons why the boys confessed their own involvement…

    #1 being they were participants in the violent assaults that night, including the jogger.

  14. What is going on here?? This story is being published by various unrelated media agencies within hour of each other, all referring to the same CNN report. And these aren’t quick run off articles, some of these are clearly polished enough to have been worked on for more than an hour. This appears very coordinated. What gives Reason?

    Yet the CNN report has no actual interview or transcript or video of Trumps statement. Even searching independently I cannot find this “statement” that Trump gave to Miguel Marquez. The words used in the statement are very dependent on the context and manner in which they were given. Why no interview or original statement?

    1. Two explanations.

      You either believe that there is some kind of list or network that encourages the push of stories like this or it’s a bunch of people acting in concert though independently. Watch out for scary clowns.

      S T A N D A L O N E C O M P L E X

      1. Pshaw! The kind of person who would believe that probably also thinks that there is some kind of coordination between the Hillary campaign via the DNC and journalists. It’s real tin-foil hat territory.

        1. A network like Journolist is unpossible these days because ethics.

          1. They use twitter now.

            Dave Weigel was on journolist when he worked at Reason

        2. All the media is owned by one ((((person)))).

          That is known.

  15. “the fact that the Central Park 5 have been exonerated by the legal system”

    After being convicted by that same system, so let’s not rely on the system to tell us what happened.

    1. Except that the incentives of the system, and the interests of those running it, are to convict ordinary peasants accused of crimes but to acquit cops and the government’s other Favored People. So the exoneration of the Central Park 5 is what lawyers call an “admission against interest” – something more reliable than the system’s normal claims.

  16. To echo Crusty, why are we talking about this? Is this something the Cankles brigade has dredged up? They sure are trying hard to avoid talking about policy or her character. What’s next? Donald used to be a terrible dresser?

    1. Crusty asked why he‘s talking about this. I have little doubt this was intended to provoke an embarrassing soundbite a la A-llleppo, but why is Trump so stupid that he takes the bait?

      1. Maybe because he’s not a polished focus group robot ?

        And he is going home from the dance with the one who brung him ?

      2. Trump probably thinks everyone is familiar with the actual sordid case and haven’t just learned about it in a distorted political hit piece like the one Scott Shackford wrote in concert with all the other pro-Hitlery propagandists.

        1. Yes, that’s the most reasonable assumption.

  17. I have no opinion on the innocence or guilt of the Central Park 5; i’m not terribly bothered either way.

    I’m pretty much willing to entertain any argument, or even combinations of them – like, they may have been partly guilty, but were over-prosecuted, or that the police behaved wrongfully eliciting confessions, etc. and they might as well be released; or maybe they were innocent of the rape, but may have aided/abetted the actual guy who did it, or whatever.

    And i have seen the ken burns doco, and read his daughter’s long piece on the subject.

    What i think gets lost in the whole debate about these particular dudes and this particular rape is the actual context in which all this shit happened

    1988-89 was a time when you basically couldn’t cross central park at night without a significantly high-chance of being physically assaulted and robbed. And when i say, “significant’, i mean, “more likely than not, if you were north of X block”.

    Basically, it seems to me that there was a conscious effort by the media to pretend that this exoneration was a “debunking” of the crime-wave of the late 80s in NYC. Like Jesse’s piece which suggested the thing called “Wilding” never actually happened… simply because *the word* was something invented by the media.

    That by focusing on ‘racist policing’, that they can turn the absurdly-high crime-stats of the 1980s into evidence of institutional racism, rather than of social-dysfunction

    That was how the Burns doco came across

    1. they may have been partly guilty, but were over-prosecuted

      The cops pinned the rape on the wrong guy. Well, the guy who didn’t leave any DNA in the jogger.

  18. From what I know, DNA evidence told that more than one person took share in the rape. That means that the belated “confession” of a prisoner who pretended to be the single offender (and who could no more be punished for the rape, but could gain from protecting others) cannot have been true.
    So the original supposition – that at least those five were guilty – is still the most probable.
    By the way, it is illogical to take that belated confession of that prisoner as gold standard and at the same time to devaluate the other confessions.

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