President Donald J. Trump didn’t much like the question.
“Why would you bring that question up now?” he asked. “It’s an interesting time to bring it up.”
Actually, it was a question lots of people were asking. They had seen the Netflix series about five teenagers wrongly convicted in a brutal attack on a Central Park jogger, and they wondered whether the president might feel the need to apologize.
The answer, of course, was no.
“You have people on both sides of that,” he said. “They admitted their guilt. If you look at Linda Fairstein and if you look at some of the prosecutors, they think that the city should never have settled that case. So we’ll leave it at that.”
The attack occurred in April 1989, and the investigation quickly focused on five teenagers, four of them black and one a Latino.
Police questioned the boys for hours before four of them finally confessed. They insisted throughout their trials the confessions had been coerced.
The case drew intense media attention, with The New York Times describing it as “one of the most widely publicized crimes of the 1980s.”
The president, then a New York real estate tycoon, helped to fan the flames, buying full-page ads in New York newspapers.
“Bring back the death penalty,” the ads said. “Bring back our police.”
The future president also appeared on CNN’s “Larry King Live.”
“I don’t see anything inciteful,” he said of the ads. “I am strongly in favor of the death penalty. I am also in favor of bringing back police forces that can do something instead of turning their back because every quality lawyer that represents people that are trouble, the first thing they do is start shouting police brutality, etc.”
He told King that some had asked whether he hated the teenagers.
“I said, ‘Of course I hate these people, and let’s all hate these people because maybe hate is what we need if we’re gonna get something done,’” he said.
All five boys were convicted, receiving sentences that ranged from 5 to 15 years. Four appealed their convictions, but all were upheld by appellate courts.
They were all exonerated in 2002 when a serial rapist confessed to the attack and his claim was supported by DNA evidence.
The next year, these men whose lives had been turned upside down by a wrongful conviction filed a lawsuit that languished for 11 years before the city finally agreed to a $41 million settlement.
The man who would soon be our president responded with an op-ed for the New York Daily News. He called the settlement “ridiculous” and a “disgrace.”
“Settling doesn’t mean innocence,” he said at the time. “Speak to the detectives on the case and try listening to the facts. These young men do not exactly have the pasts of angels.”
Asked about the president’s reaction to her series, director Ava DuVernay told the entertainment website The Wrap she was surprised only by the timing.
“I’m surprised it took him so long,” she said. “I was waiting every day to get a tweet.”
When the comment finally came, DuVernay was unimpressed.
“There’s nothing that he says or does in relation to this case, in relation to the lives of five people of color, that really has any weight or truth to it,” she said. “It’s not our reality. It’s not truthful. We already know this, so it’s kind of like, why do we keep banging our head against the wall about it?”
Our president called for the execution of five innocent teenagers. He’s not sorry about it.
What more can you say?