WASHINGTON – Donald Trump set heads steaming last month when he accused undocumented Mexican immigrants of being criminals and rapists, but it wasn’t the first time Trump found himself in hot water over racial issues.
“Latinos may be angry at what Trump said, but we’re not surprised by it,” Janet Murguía, president of Hispanic advocacy group the National Council of La Raza, said Tuesday at the organization’s annual conference. “The demonization of our community is not new. When you attribute traits such as drug dealers, murderers, rapists to an entire group of people, that is by definition racism.”
In April, Trump provoked widespread criticism on social media over a tweet that appeared to blame President Barack Obama for the behavior of protesters in Baltimore. The connection Trump seemed to draw between the two was that both parties were black.
“It’s part of this broader context that has been coming, specifically, really from the Republican party for the entire Obama administration, with sort of a thin veneer of respectability over what is essentially a racist discourse,” Eugene Puryear, director of field operations for housing rights organization Justice First, said.
But Trump’s race troubles started long before he announced his candidacy for president. In 1973, Trump Management Corporation was sued by the Department of Justice for racial discrimination. DOJ accused the the real estate mogul’s company of racially discriminating against black tenants in New York by offering them different rental terms.
Of the 16,000 apartments the corporation owned at the time, approximately 700 were rented to black tenants and the company did not consider race in the rental process, Trump told the New York Times.
“Generally that was the period where this country was … first starting to grapple in a legal way with what was a widely held practice,” Puryear said of housing segregation, an issue his organization deals with. “So it wouldn’t be surprising at all that someone who was very active in real estate in the 1970s … would be engaged in the broad racist practices of that entire industry.”
Trump’s company eventually reached a settlement with DOJ. It promised it would not discriminate based on race and it would give black families priority in certain white majority apartment buildings. But three years later, DOJ charged the corporation with discrimination again, alleging that potential black tenants were being told that there were no vacancies.
Criminals of every age
In the 1980s, Trump raised cries of racism again during the infamous Central Park jogger case. When a young white woman was raped and badly beaten while jogging in the park, five black and Latino boys were arrested. They were 14 to 16 years old.
Trump took out a full page ad in several New York City newspapers calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty for “criminals of every age.” The five boys, who became known as the Central Park Five, were all convicted of crimes related to the case, although many at the time felt that the confessions the boys gave were coerced.
“Trump’s participation in that entire media frenzy around that case was entirely racist,” Puryear said.
During and after the trial, there was much discussion about the role race played in the convictions. Trump’s willingness to call for the death penalty for children, all of whom were of color, drew criticism from the black community.
“Donald Trump was just one of many people that were using vastly racist discourse about black thugs and criminals and being black animals and roaming the park to racialize this incident,” Puryear said.
The convictions of all five men were vacated in 2001 after a fellow inmate confessed to committing the crime and DNA evidence backed his claim.
The Central Park Five settled with the city of New York for $40 million. In an opinion column in New York Daily News, Trump called the settlement “a disgrace.” When certain groups called on Trump to apologize for the ad he ran during the trial, he refused.
He later tweeted (then deleted) a message implying that the boys’ presence in the park the night of the attack was evidence of guilt. The message read, “Tell, me, what were they doing in the park, playing checkers?”
In 1991, former Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino President John O’Donnell wrote a tell-all book “Trumped!” in which he accused Trump of expressing racist stereotypes about black people, including that they were lazy.
O’Donnell quotes Trump as saying, “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”
In an interview with Playboy in 1997, Trump said that the things O’Donnell wrote about him were “probably true.”
On top of the polls
The comments about Mexican immigrants last month during the real estate mogul’s announcement he was seeking the Republican nomination for president provoked the ire of many, leaving companies that have been longtime partners of Trump Corporation rushing to cut ties, including Univision and NBC, which both aired programs owned by or featuring Trump.
“These types of slurs affect all of us,” Murguía said. “The majority of Hispanics are native-born American citizens, so when immigrants are painted with the broad brush of hate, it denigrates all Latinos.”
Murguía called on Republicans to more openly denounce rhetoric like Trump’s, which she said is dangerous, even if he never becomes president.
“It is unacceptable to just ignore the voices of hate. It is insufficient to quietly disagree with them or to avoid the kind of rhetoric that they use,” Murguía said. “The Republican party’s tepid response sends a clear message to the Latino community that you are willing to indulge and tolerate hate for political gain.”
Puryear said Trump’s track record on issues of race are troubling. Last week, he and dozens of others attended a rally in downtown Washington to protest Trump’s newest hotel, which will be in the renovated Old Post Office Pavilion, which he is leasing from the federal government.
“I think people should be concerned … about the fact that whatever he believes in his heart of hearts, that he’s willing to use all sorts of racial caricatures to gain votes,” Puryear said. “Whatever he believes, that’s a dangerous precedent and a dangerous act.”
A spokeswoman for Trump did not respond to requests for comment.
Reach reporter Nadia Dreid at [email protected] or 202-408-1491. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
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