(L-R) Kevin Richardson, Korey Wise, Ken Burns, Raymond Santana, and Antron McCray attend the TimesTalks Presents: 'Central Park 5' at TheTimesCenter on April 17, 2013 in New York City.
Photo: Daniel Zuchnik/FilmMagic
Photo: Daniel Zuchnik/FilmMagic

What Kavanaugh drama says about due process and the Central Park 5

Due process.

That is what President Donald Trump is calling for as he struggles to get the flailing Brett Kavanaugh appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court despite a chorus of allegations against him for excessive drinking, bullying and sexual assault. 

“It’s a very scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of,” Trump said Tuesday.“This is a very difficult time.”

Kavanaugh, former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, and Trump himself have all prompted the president to demand due process regarding allegations of sexual assault. 

Yusef Salaam and Raymond Santana are still waiting for their due process

“When I saw what he said, the first thing that came to my mind was he didn’t have that same energy for us,” Santana told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution late Wednesday. “We didn’t get that type of benefit. We 14-15-year old kids and you calling for the death penalty? We been telling you that this dude is full of (expletive). Now people seeing it.”

>> Read more trending news 

On their own, Salaam and Santana’s names might not sound familiar. But in the late 1980s, they became intricately linked to a violent assault and rape in Manhattan. 

Salaam, Santana and three others would forever be dubbed “the Central Park Five.” 

The five — four African-Americans and one Hispanic — were charged variously for assault, robbery, riot, rape, sexual abuse and attempted murder of 28-year-old Trisha Meili, who spent 12 days in a coma after she was attacked on April 19, 1989. 

Two weeks after the attack, Trump, then a flamboyant New York real estate magnate, spent $85,000 of his own money to place full-page ads in four of the city’s major newspapers arguing to “bring back the death penalty, bring back our police!”

“(New York City) Mayor Koch has stated that hate and rancor should be removed from our hearts. I do not think so. I want to hate these muggers and murderers,” Trump wrote. “They should be forced to suffer. ... Yes, Mayor Koch, I want to hate these murderers and I always will. ... How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits? Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!" 

The ages of the Central Park Five ranged from 14 to 16, prompting former Republican White House aide Patrick Buchanan to call for the lynching of the oldest. 

“If the eldest of that wolf pack were tried, convicted and hanged in Central Park, by June 1, and the 13- and 14-year-olds were stripped, horsewhipped, and sent to prison, the park might soon be safe again for women,” Buchanan said. 

“Here we were in 1989, and they were using language indicative of the 1950s and 1960s,” Salaam said Wednesday to the AJC. “I thought we got past that. People of color being accused and being looked at as being guilty.” 

The case — which gave rise to the term “wilding” — riveted and terrified New York City and sold a lot of newspapers. 

Each of the five would spend between six years and 13 years in prison. 

In 2002, Matias Reyes, a convicted serial rapist and murderer who was already serving a life sentence for other crimes, confessed to the raping and beating of Meili. He provided details of the attack, and his DNA evidence matched. None of the DNA evidence collected from the Central Park Five ever matched the crime scene and their convictions were overturned. 

>>Read: Kavanaugh appeals directly to public opinion in WSJ editorial

“It wasn’t that we got let go because of a technicality,” Salaam told the AJC. “The DNA evidence proved we didn’t do it. When they find your DNA at the scene of the crime, you were there. We weren’t even there.” 

Today, 29 years later, Santana and Salaam are both living in the Atlanta area. The other three — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson and Kharey Wise — have each retreated to quiet lives. 

The five sued the city of New York for police and prosecutorial misconduct and settled a $41 million case in 2014. 

In 2012, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns directed “The Central Park Five” about the case, and in 2019 — the 30th anniversary of their arrest — Netflix will debut an Ava DuVernay miniseries about it.

Trump, however, never apologized for the ad, and as recently as 2016, on the eve of his election, doubled-down on their guilt: "They admitted they were guilty. The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty,” Trump said. “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." 

On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about Trump’s selective due process regarding the Kavanaugh confirmation process. The FBI is currently investigating the sexual assault claims against Kavanaugh made by Christine Blasey Ford, who said Kavanaugh tried to rape her while the two were in high school. 

Sanders said Trump is “in favor of a law and order that presumes that people are innocent until proven otherwise.” 

When asked whether Trump still believes the Central Park Five are guilty, Sanders deflected and said she needed to “look back at the specific comments."

Salaam is not holding out any hope for a presidential apology. 

“When we look at a person’s track record, it tells us everything we need to know about them,” Salaam said. “Regardless of what anyone thought about Barack Obama, what he did in that office was regal and noble. To go from that to where we are now is such a crime. We deserve better. We deserve the best of us to represent us.”

Santana said he doesn’t want an apology, doesn’t expect one, and could not care less whether one ever comes.

“We have families now. We have kids,” Santana said. “If he had it his way, none of us would be here. We would have been wiped out. We would have no legacy. How do you forgive that?”

Thank you for reading the Springfield News-Sun and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.

Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Springfield News-Sun. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.

X