Central Park Five: ‘Trump Put A Bounty On Our Heads’

Yusef Salaam in tears.
Mario Tama / Getty Images

The five men commonly referred to as the Central Park Five were teenagers when they were arrested, convicted, and sentenced to years in prison for a rape that they did not commit. The five, now grown, are Korey Wise, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, and Raymond Santana. They were honored on Friday at an ACLU awards ceremony, The Daily Beast reports.

Their ordeal began back in 1989, when they are accused and falsely convicted of assaulting and raping a white jogger in New York City’s Central Park. Today, the five avoid the “Central Park Five” moniker, which was given to them so long ago by a sensationalist press which obsessively covered the crime at the time, often as if the five then-underage boys were guilty before they were even tried.

Adding further insult to already substantial and traumatizing injury, the men now must inhabit a world in which one person who contributed substantially to that sensationalism is now the president of the United States.

It was Donald Trump, then simply a wealthy and high-profile New Yorker and real estate developer, who took out full-page ads attacking the boys in gigantic font that demanded “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY.”

“Korey [Wise] said it so well,” said Salaam. “He said, when Donald Trump took out that full-page ad, and put them in all of New York City’s newspapers, calling for our execution, he placed a bounty on our head.”

It was Michael B. Jordon, the actor, who introduced the five honorees so many years later at the ACLU event. Jordon retold the now infamous story for those in attendance and recalled his own memories of watching the coverage unfold at the time.

As a young black man at that time, he remembers hearing their ages over and over again and thinking how any one of them could be him.

“In 1989, police found the body of a young white woman in Central Park, covered in blood, and left for dead after a sexual assault,” Jordon began. “Weeks later, Trisha Meili awakened from a coma. She was unable to recall her attack. But the police had already been rounding up suspects, questioning black and brown teenagers who had been in Central Park that night. They focused their interrogation tactics on five boys in particular.”

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The five men were presented with the first-ever Roger Baldwin Courage Award, and to accept another on behalf of the film director, Ava DuVernay, who recently released a Netflix series about their lengthy legal struggle. She won the ACLU’s annual Social Responsibility in Media Award for her efforts in that documentary.