When you watch Netflix and Ava Duvernay's When They See Us, be prepared to have your emotions constantly fluctuate between feelings of sympathy and intense anger after seeing five young boys robbed of their childhoods and wrongly imprisoned for years. The four-part limited series shows how the “Central Park Five," as the headlines at the time referred to them, were coerced by police to confess to attacking and raping a jogger, along with other crimes that occurred on the night of 19th April, 1989 in Central Park.
When They See Us portrays the mob mentality against the group — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana Jr., and Korey Wise — that was encouraged by the media. Publications used language that assumed their guilt simply because they are black and Latino. One primary figure who used the media to further crucify the so-called Central Park Five was President Donald Trump. And while the series makes sure not to give too much focus to him, his 1989 ad is one of the many examples of the unfair narrative surrounding the kids that Duvernay includes in her moving series.
The second episode of When They See Us begins with a few of the boys out on bail awaiting their trail. It was during this time that Trump spent $85,000 to run full-page ads, shown in the show, in four New York City newspapers that read “Bring back the death penalty. Bring back our police.” In the ad, Trump, then a real estate developer, wrote, “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. They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes.” He added, “ I am not looking to psychoanalyze or understand them, I am looking to punish them.”
Trump also appears in When They See Us via an archived television interview with NBC News from 5th September 1989. When We See Us incorporates a clip of the interview where Trump said, “You better believe that I hate the people that took this girl and raped her brutally, you better believe it.” He makes a claim that includes language similar to his tweets today:
“And I think a black may think that they don’t really have the advantage or this or that, but in actuality, today, currently, it’s a great,” Trump said. “I’ve said on occasion, even about myself if I were starting off today, I would love to be a well-educated black, because I really believe they do have an actual advantage today.”
Trump’s NBC News appearance is being watched by Yusef’s mother Sharon Salaam, played by Aunjanue Ellis, and her friend. Sharon calls Trump a “bigot” and states, “That devil wants to kill my son.”
Duvernay addressed the inclusion of Trump in her cover story for The Hollywood Reporter. She told THR that Trump involved himself with the case because "it made him feel like a player and important.” She continued:
“Press conferences ensued. He was on CNN. Those are all the things that we know he wanted at that time. By doing this, he got quite a bit of attention, and still is getting it for doing the same kinds of things. I don't think it was for any real desire to seek justice for Trisha Meili, because if he did feel that way he would have sought it for [Brett Kavanaugh accuser] Christine Blasey Ford. It was an opportunity, and he's an opportunist.”
To this day, Trump has not admitted any wrongdoing for speaking out against the boys. In fact, he has stood by calling for the boys’ conviction on multiple occasions. In 2002, when Wise was still serving his sentence, a convicted rapist and murderer admitted he committed the assault and his semen matched the evidence found at the crime scene. When Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon released a documentary about the Central Park Five's wrongful conviction, Trump seemingly maintained his belief the men were guilty. He tweeted in 2013, “The Central Park Five documentary was a one sided piece of garbage that didn't explain the.horrific crimes of these young men while in park.”
In 2014, the state of New York finally paid the Central Park Five a $41 million settlement for their unjust imprisonment and they were exonerated. But in 2016, Trump once again refused to accept that the men were victims of a racially biased system. “They admitted they were guilty,” he said in a statement to CNN. “The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. 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 this day thirty years ago, Trump bought $85k worth of ads in NYC papers calling for the execution of boys known as The Central Park 5 - before their trial. Today, we replace his hateful ad with another image. They were innocent. And the system failed them. #WhenTheySeeUs pic.twitter.com/4298R3t4U3— Ava DuVernay (@ava) May 1, 2019
It’s obvious Trump won’t apologise for his role. But Duvernay is here to remind the public of his actions. She tweeted the powerful poster for When We See Us to “replace [Trump’s] hateful ad with another image.” Instead of being associated with an ad that encouraged the death penalty for the group of innocent teenage boys, now McCray, Richardson, Salaam, Santana, and Wise share their truth and struggles on a platform that reaches millions.
When They See Us is available on UK Netflix now