A member of the “Exonerated 5” has spoken out against President Donald Trump, saying he believes that if the commander in chief had his way, he and the four other Black and Latino men, wrongly accused as teens in the brutal 1989 rape, beating and robbery of a Central Park jogger, would have been lynched.
Yusef Salaam, who along with four friends, were wrongly jailed 31 years ago. The case against the boys, known then as the "Central Park 5," divided the city. Trump himself famously took out full-page advertisements in four city newspapers calling on New York State to reinstate the death penalty.
The ads never explicitly called for the death penalty for the five teens, but Trump made it clear that the action he was calling for was done with the victim of the attack, Trisha Meili, in mind.
“I want to hate these murderers and I always will,” Trump wrote in the May 1989 ad. “I am not looking to psychoanalyze or understand them, I am looking to punish them.”
Though he doesn't discuss Trump much, Salaam said he still is pained by the then-real estate mogul's actions.
“Had his ad taken full effect, we would have been hanging from trees in Central Park,” Salaam told The Guardian in a new interview. “People wanted our blood running in the streets.”
“I would tell anybody and everybody about what happened to me and how Trump rushed to judge us,” he said. “My experience has taught me to prepare for the worst but to hope for the best."
In 2002, the five men convicted as teens were freed after the district attorney determined Meili had been attacked by Matias Reyes, who confessed to the crime. His admission was confirmed by DNA evidence. Meili was the second woman he raped and beat in Central Park that week.
The five boys were elsewhere in the park at the time of Meili's attack, the district attorney's office determined in 2002.
In 2003, the five men sued the City of New York for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination, and emotional distress. The city settled in 2014 with the five defendants for $41 million.
Trump in 2019 said he wouldn't apologize for his comments made in 1989. “You have people on both sides of that,” he said at the White House. “They admitted their guilt.”