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Perhaps investigators should have suspected something was wrong with the confessions. There had been a series of beatings and robberies that night. The teenagers had confessed to being there, either as secondary participants or as passive witnesses. The confessions had matched those incidents.
The beating, rape, and near death of the Central Park jogger had been especially brutal. It was a horrible crime. But the details of the confessions did not correspond with that crime, as they had with the others. And the time and location were off. Central Park is huge, one of the reasons it is famous. The perimeter is 6 miles long. At the time of that assault, teens were running wild in another part of the park, miles away. The confessions did not make a lot of sense.
There was one exception. Detectives had revealed information to one of the accused, even to the point of guiding him through the scene of the initial assault and the path through which the victim had been dragged.
The issue of false confessions had not been the subject of intense study back then. Unless direct torture was involved, prevailing thought, common sense itself, was that a confession was a confession. Period. Why would anyone who was innocent confess to a serious crime?
Police science has since revealed that age, implicit intimidation, round the clock interrogation, lack of sleep – tools once used to find the truth – can all produce confessions that are later disproved by DNA analysis or other conclusive evidence.
We have experienced that here in Missouri, as a convicted murderer of a popular sports writer was discovered to have been innocent, having been put in prison partly as a result of a false confession by a friend.
In New York that night, 17-hour interrogations, threats of beatings, overheard cries of pain the teens were told were coming from their friends, were all applied to get to the truth. Investigators were convinced they had succeeded in breaking down the guilty, in getting them to admit what they had done.
Modern detectives are careful about false confessions. They check for inconsistencies. They look for substantiation. A confession can begin, rather than end, an investigation.
That is now. Back then, the teenagers had confessed, and that was that.
A real estate mogul with a reputation as a publicity hound ran a full page ad urging conviction and death for the accused.
Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!
The outraged businessman, Donald Trump, continued full press with television interviews urging, in his words, hatred against the accused.
The teenagers protested that their confessions had been coerced, but they were convicted. After all, a confession is a confession.
It took a dozen years for another confession to surface. Another man, serving a life sentence, told authorities he had committed the beating and rape. He had been the main suspect of another rape a couple of days before in the same area of the park. DNA evidence had been kept of the assault on the Central Park jogger. It matched his DNA and confirmed his confession. He was the perpetrator.
The teenagers, no longer teenagers, had been proven innocent of the most brutal of the crimes that happened that night. They were let go. Prosecutors, lawyers, judges, everyone agreed they had been convicted of a crime they had not committed.
Well, almost everyone.
Donald Trump wrote in 2014 that they had to have been guilty, that should have been executed.
Speak to the detectives on the case and try listening to the facts. These young men do not exactly have the pasts of angels.
And now, five years later?
You have people on both sides of that. They admitted their guilt. If you look at Linda Fairstein, look at some of the prosecutors, they think that the city should never have settled that case. So, we’ll leave it at that.
Actually, the Prosecutor in the case, Linda Fairstein, agrees that they had it wrong, and that the teens were exonerated. They were innocent of the crime. She does insist they may have been guilty of other crimes.
In 2009 the first African-American took office as President of the United States. Some white supremacists had a hard time with that fact. It could not be legal. There had to be something wrong.
Donald Trump took the lead.
If he wasn’t born in this country, which is a real possibility, then he has pulled one of the great cons in the history of politics.
Even after Hawaii, where he was born, dug up the original birth certificate, it took years for Mr. Trump to give it up.
A lot of people do not think it was an authentic certificate.
Later, he tried to take credit for ending the controversy.
Look, I was the one that got him to produce, uh, the birth certificate. And I think I did a good job.
I think I did a great job and a great service, not only for the country, but even for the President in getting him to produce his birth certificate.
We should consider the possibility that there is a life’s pattern that …colors… the current campaign against immigration. That perhaps it is more than skin deep.
The law says that those seeking refuge from oppression or violence have a right to immediate processing, that, if their claims are true, they have a right to asylum. A legal right.
For many decades, immigrants have been screened for anyone who should not come in. That seems fair. In any substantial population we can find some percentage of wrongdoers. If you search diligently for criminality, you will eventually find what you seek. Yet it is also a fact that immigrants, by and large, are the safest of groups to be around.
Today, border agents are reassigned, and processing is slowed to a crawl to make legal immigration as hard as can be. Refugees are told to wait to days, sometimes weeks, in extreme conditions, with no protection from those who prey on those who wait.
So why the demonizing of immigrants?
They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.
And why target little kids for brutal detention?
Perhaps part of the pattern can be found in just which immigrants are not targeted for harsh treatment, immigrants who are told they should no longer have to wait their turn at all. From a 2013 speech from the man who would become my President:
I say to myself, why aren’t we letting people in from Europe?
They are different, we are told.
I have many friends from Europe. They want to come in. People I know. Tremendous people. Hard-working people.
What is the commonality that flows from the black kids in Central Park, through the Papers-Please campaign against America’s first black President, and finally to the deadly waters of the Rio Grande, where brown skinned bodies float downstream?
In 1989, as the Central Park jogger was recovering, as the accused teenagers waited for trial, one paragraph in Donald Trump’s full page ad, the ad urging their immediate conviction and execution, contained an interesting paragraph. Mr. Trump harkened back to the good old days.
When I was young, I sat in a diner with my father and witnessed two young bullies cursing and threatening a very frightened waitress. Two cops rushed in, lifted up the thugs and threw them out the door, warning them never to cause trouble again. I miss the feeling of security New York’s finest once gave to the citizens of this City.
There is no documentation, beyond Mr. Trump’s memory, of the incident. But another incident involving New York police and Donald Trump’s father did include arrest records and newspaper accounts.
A Ku Klux Klan march in New York City in 1927 resulted in the arrest of several Klan members who had attacked patrolmen alongside the march. Fred Trump’s arrest in that racist incident, including his full name and his then address are part of the public record.
Some folks rise above family traditions and cast off old chains of bigotry.
For others, those traditions Trump everything.