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Donald Trump and the Central Park 5: Background of tragic story behind Netflix’s When They See Us

Donald Trump and the Central Park 5
Ava DuVernay directing When They See Us. Pic credit: Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix

Netflix has a new miniseries called When They See Us and it tells the story of a tragic misstep in the history of the American court system.

The new series tells the story of the Central Park Five, a group of five young men — four black and one Hispanic — that was found guilty of the rape and assault of a white female jogger in Central Park in New York City.

The problem came when it turned out 13 years later that all five men were innocent.

The Central Park Five

When They See Us tells the story of the five young men found guilty of a crime they never committed, who spent years in prison.

These young men were Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise. After police interrogation, four of the five admitted to the crime.

A court found Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, and Raymond Santana guilty of rape, assault, robbery, and riot in the attacks. Salaam and McCray were 15. Santana was 14. They were sentenced to 5-10 years in a youth correctional facility.

A second trial found Kevin Richardson, who was 14, guilty of attempted murder, rape, assault, and robbery in the attacks. Korey Wise, 16, was acquitted of those charges but found guilty of sexual abuse, assault, and riot in the attack. They were sentenced to 5-15 years.

The real attacker stepped forward

In 2001, a decade after the trials found the five teenagers guilty and sentenced them, convicted serial rapist and murderer Matias Reyes stepped forward.

He was serving a life sentence for other crimes and was not a suspect at all in the Central Park case. Reyes met Wise in the prison and finally admitted that he was the one who attacked and raped the jogger.

DNA evidence proved that he was the attacker and it was his semen that proved he was the sole rapist. The statute of limitations had passed, so Reyes could not be found guilty but his admission proved the five teens were innocent.

In 2002, the convictions against the five teens were overturned. The kids, who were now men who spent much of their lives in prison, sued New York City, who originally refused to settle out of court.

By 2014, the city settled with the five men for $41 million. The city did not admit to any wrongdoing in the settlement.

Donald Trump and the Central Park Five

One of the biggest problems, when the Central Park Five case went to trial, was that many condemned them before the trial even started.

In 1989, real estate developer Donald Trump used his wealth and influence to damn the teenagers before the trial even started. Trump paid $85,000 to take out a full page ad in all of New York’s daily newspapers that called on the city to see the death penalty against the teenagers.

In an interview with The Guardian, Salaam said that it was serious when he saw a famous person saying he wanted him to die.

After Trump paid for the ads, religious leader Pat Buchanan asked that Wise be “hunged in Central Park” with the others “stripped, horsewhipped, and sent to prison.”

The original documentary about the Central Park Five by Ken Burns was dismissed by Donald Trump.

Trump also wrote an op-ed for the New York Daily News in 2014 where he said that the settlement with the men was a “disgrace.”

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

When They See Us was released, and the five men did a press tour and spoke about the conviction, the overturning of the conviction and Donald Trump’s refusal to believe their innocence.

“I look at Donald Trump, and I understand him as a representation of a symptom of America,” said Salaam. “We were convicted because of the color of our skin. People thought the worst of us. They created superpredator laws because of what happened. And all of this because [of] prominent New Yorkers—especially Donald Trump.”

When They See Us is streaming right now on Netflix.


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