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Trump’s attacks against Bragg aren’t business as usual

Trump’s modus operandi hasn’t changed much since the late ’80s. Let’s see if justice has evolved.

“I knew that this famous man was calling for us to die.”

Those were the words of Yusef Salaam from a 2016 interview with The Guardian, speaking about an advertisement that a then up-and-coming media mogul named Donald Trump took out in four newspapers across New York City in 1989 targeting Salaam and four other Black and Latino teenagers who would be wrongly convicted of raping a white female jogger in New York City.

The former president has a pattern and a playbook. He is back at it again, playing up racist tropes to further his own public agenda.

On Tuesday, former President Trump is scheduled to be arraigned in New York City in the same courthouse where the Exonerated Five (formerly referred to as the Central Park Five) were wrongly convicted. 

That’s not the only theme that has come back into play during the current Trump investigations and the recent indictment by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. The former president has a pattern and a playbook. He is back at it again, playing up racist tropes to further his own public agenda. This time, he’s attacking Bragg, who is the first Black person to serve as the Manhattan district attorney, who convened the grand jury that voted to indict Trump. 

Trump arraignment: Follow our live blog beginning at 10 a.m. ET on Tuesday for the latest updates and analysis on Trump’s arrest in New York.

Trump has called Bragg an animal, and he warned of “death and destruction” from his supporters if he was indicted on charges related to the hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. He posted a now-deleted image of himself holding a baseball bat positioned next to a picture of Bragg’s head. 

The racist and escalatory rhetoric Trump is using to speak about Bragg isn’t just business as usual, nor mere political rhetoric. It is serious. Bragg has reportedly received at least one death threat (among hundreds of other threats) in the form of a package that was mailed to his office. The package contained a note that said “Alvin — I’ll kill you.”

After Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise were convicted as teens, they spent several years behind bars for a crime they didn’t commit. It wasn’t until 2002 that the five men were exonerated and the city settled a lawsuit with them after the real perpetrator came forward.

In 2019, Trump was given the chance to apologize to them, but instead he said this: “If you look at some of the prosecutors, they think that the city never should have settled that case.”

“Donald Trump had never in the decades that he and I’ve been out here in New York and nationally taken a position on criminal justice or civil rights in his whole career,” the Rev. Al Sharpton, host of "PoliticsNation" on MSNBC and the president of the National Action Network, pointed out on my show recently.

“The only time he did that was taking out [an ad] calling for the death penalty of these young men. And of course, then when he got into politics, he entered on birtherism saying that Barack Obama was not a real American. So it seems like he only gets involved when it’s race — against a Black [person].” 

As we await news of Trump’s arraignment Tuesday, expecting at least one rally in his support and bracing ourselves for even more rhetoric Tuesday evening in a post-arraignment speech he has announced, it’s clear Trump’s modus operandi hasn’t changed much since the late ’80s, when he helped solidify a wrongful conviction for Salaam and his peers. In the coming weeks, perhaps months, we’ll see whether or not some form of justice catches up with him.