Fact Check

Did Donald Trump Ask for 'Retribution by the Courts' in 1989 Newspaper Ad?

He placed ads in four newspapers in 1989 demanding reinstatement of the death penalty after a woman was mugged, beaten, and raped in Central Park.

Published April 5, 2023

 (David Talukdar/Getty Images)
Image courtesy of David Talukdar/Getty Images
In a 1989 newspaper ad after a brutal rape and beating in Central Park, Donald Trump called for "respect for authority, the fear of retribution by the courts, society and the police for those who break the law."

With former U.S. President Donald Trump appearing in a Manhattan criminal court on April 4, 2023, on arraignment over felony charges, a reader asked Snopes whether Trump took out an ad in four New York newspapers on May 1, 1989, seeking societal change that allegedly would instill "the fear of retribution by the courts" in criminal suspects.

Trump became the first American president to face criminal charges related to alleged hush-money payments to ex-adult film star Stormy Daniels, with whom he allegedly had a sexual encounter. Trump allegedly made the payments weeks before the 2016 presidential election. Seven years later, the Manhattan court indicted him on 34 felony charges.

"Is this true?" the reader asked Snopes, referring to Trump's remarks in the 1989 ad: "What has happened to the respect for authority, the fear of retribution by the courts, society and the police for those who break the law, who wantonly trespass on the rights of others? How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits? – From a full-page ad placed in four New York City newspapers by Donald Trump, May 1, 1989."

We found the attributed quotes to Trump to be true.

Trump placed the ads in four newspapers after the New York police arrested five teens on suspicion of mugging, beating, and raping a white woman in Central Park in Manhattan in April 1989. The accused were Black and Latino youths, aged 14 to 16 years.


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In the The Daily News ad, for example, with the headline "BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!", Trump called for the execution of the "muggers" and "murderers." During his interview with Larry King on CNN, Trump defended those ads.

All five youths, known as the "Central Park 5," were exonerated in December 2002. Subsequently, they won a $40 million judgment in 2014 against the city of New York for false convictions. Even after the five accused were exonerated after a DNA match to serial rapist Matias Reyes and his confession of the crimes, Trump refused to apologize for calling for the death penalty against the falsely accused youth. 

Before, during and after his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump also was accused of making racist remarks aimed at racial and ethnic groups. Those types of controversial remarks had a long history, dating back to the 1970s. 

On April 4, 2023, the day Trump was arraigned, one of the five people accused in 1989, Yusef Abdus Salaam, who was 15 in 1989, published a similar-looking ad on his Twitter feed – "BRING BACK JUSTICE & FAIRNESS. BUILD A BRIGHTER FUTURE FOR HARLEM" – with the comment, "Over 30 years ago, Donald Trump took out full page ads calling for my execution. On the day he was arrested and arraigned, here is my ad in response."

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Salaam's ad calling for justice tried to mirror the language and tone of Trump's 1989 ad.

 "Here is my message to you, Mr Trump: In response to the multiple federal and state criminal investigations that you are facing, you responded by warning of 'potential death and destruction,' and by posting a photograph of yourself with a baseball bat, next to a photo of Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg. These actions, just like your actions leading up to the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol, are an attack on our safety. Thirty-four years ago, your full-page ad stated, in all caps: CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS. You were wrong then and you are wrong now. The civil liberties of all Americans are grounded in the U.S. Constitution."

We therefore rate he claim about Trump's quotes in the 1989 ad to be "True."



"Conviction and Exoneration." The Central Park Five | Ken Burns | PBS, https://www.pbs.org/kenburns/the-central-park-five/conviction-and-exoneration. Accessed 5 Apr. 2023.

Lopez, German. "Donald Trump's Long History of Racism, from the 1970s to 2020." Vox, 25 July 2016, https://www.vox.com/2016/7/25/12270880/donald-trump-racist-racism-history.

Neuman, Scott. "'Central Park 5' Win $40 Million From NYC For False Convictions." NPR, 20 June 2014. NPR, https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2014/06/20/323996355/central-park-5-win-40-million-from-nyc-for-false-convictions.

Ransom, Jan. "Trump Will Not Apologize for Calling for Death Penalty Over Central Park Five." The New York Times, 18 June 2019. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/18/nyregion/central-park-five-trump.html.

Trump in 1989 Central Park Five Interview: "Maybe Hate Is What We Need" | CNN Business. 2016. www.cnn.com, https://www.cnn.com/videos/cnnmoney/2016/10/07/trump-1989-central-park-five-interview-cnnmoney.cnnmoney.

"Trump Returns to New York to Face Historic Criminal Charges." AP NEWS, 3 Apr. 2023, https://apnews.com/article/trump-indictment-new-york-florida-hush-money-election-764309dce49f81a50bf9f610ffd5ceb6.

Damakant Jayshi is a former writer for Snopes.