By Sydney H. Schanberg
First published in Newsday, May 9, 1989
It used to be, in communities that considered themselves civilized, that when somebody scrawled hate messages on building or took out hate ads in the local newspapers, they either got arrested or ostracized. People would be offended, ashamed, outraged.
Not in New York. In New York — where the ruling class considers itself urbane, cosmopolitan and large-minded — hate peddlers are apparently good company. Donald Trump has proved that.
A week ago, on Monday, May 1, Trump took out full-page ads in New York City’s newspapers calling upon all of us “to hate.” Oh yes, he was careful to say in the ads that the people he wanted us “to hate” were the “roving bands of wild criminals [who] roam our neighborhoods.” His ads were in response to the terrible group rape and beating of a young woman in Central Park on the night of April 19, and Trump was counting on the feelings of shock and even vengeance in the community to give his message a friendly reception. He also knew that all the young men accused of the crime were black or Hispanic.
To think that such a hate ad would not carry a racial message would be stupid. And Donald Trump the Gambling King, Donald Trump the Stock Market Manipulator, Donald Trump the Potentate of Self-Publicity, may be a troglodyte — but he is not stupid.
So he knew, when he spent his $85,000 to take out these ads calling for reinstatement of the death penalty and calling for more cops with greater powers on the streets, that he was saying something racial. He worded the ads skillfully to avoid overt racial language, but when he said he wanted more “law and order [to] keep up safe from those who would prey on innocent lives to fulfill some distorted inner need,” anyone who could read knew he was saying he wanted protection against “them.”
And we also know that he took out no ads in 1986, when “roving bands of wild criminals” attacked three black men in Howard Beach and chased one of them into traffic to be killed by a car.
Those who brutally assaulted the young woman three weeks ago in Central Park should be punished severely, after being found guilty at a trial. But that’s not the issue in Donald Trump’s ads. For they are lynch-mob ads and nothing else. Then why is it that the only group in our society to condemn the ads was a coalition of black clergy? They took out their own ads to say that Trump’s message was a “thinly veiled racist polemic” — and they were right.
The black ministers added: “The crime committed by those young boys was wicked and abominable. In due course they will get what they deserve. But we will broach no indictment of us as a race over one incident. And we will not offer our youth up as sacrifice to appease false gods like Mr. Trump.”
Why did no one else stand up and speak out? Mayor Ed Koch disagreed with Trump but spoke without true censure. “He had a right to express his opinion,” Koch said. “He’s expressing hatred and I’m expressing anger. There’s a big difference.” Koch didn’t say we should shun people who issued calls for hate and lynching bees. He said they had a right to their opinions.
Before anyone leaps up to remind me of the Constitution’s protection of freedom of expression, let me refer you to Oliver Wendell Holmes, who wrote the Supreme Court’s opinion in Schenck vs. United States in 1919, a precedent that still stands. He wrote: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”
Donald Trump knew that there is racial tension in this city, where half the population is non-white and power is held predominantly by whites, and therefore he knew that he was throwing kerosene on smoldering coals. And yet in the white community, where invitations to Donald Trump’s yacht are coveted, little or nothing was said of his inflammatory conduct.
Over this past weekend, Gov. Mario Cuomo — who has striven to be a national symbol of humane leadership — joined hands with Donald Trump in Albany to help promote a bicycle race named after Trump. At the photo opportunity on the Empire Plaza mall, Trump called the governor “a great guy, who is a great friend,” and Cuomo smiled.
Is Mario Cuomo so desperate for publicity that he must embrace a man who takes out hate ads in the newspapers? This is, curiously, the same Mario Cuomo who has staunchly opposed and vetoed the death penalty and who said just a few weeks ago: “We the people of New York ought now in this hour of fright to show the way. We should refuse to allow this time to be marked forever in the pages of our history as the time that we were driven back to one of the vestiges of our primitive condition because we were not strong enough, because we were not intelligent enough, because we were not civilized enough to find a better answer to violence — than violence.”
And what about Rudolph Giuliani, mayoral candidate, who’s first big campaign fundraiser, later this month, will be co-chaired by the very Donald Trump of the hate ads? Could this be why Giuliani said last week that Trump’s ads had contributed to “a healthy debate”?
It appears that we now live in a city where hate ads pass for “healthy debate.” Yes, and no neighborhood should be without its very own lynch mob.