The N.Y.C. Roots of Trump and ‘Go Back Where You Came From’

In October of 1973, the federal government charged the Trump Management Corporation with discrimination against African Americans seeking apartments in the 39 buildings the firm operated, most of them in Brooklyn and Queens.

A short time out of Wharton, the company’s then president, Donald J. Trump, quickly denied the charges as “absolutely ridiculous.”

Between 1970 and 1980, New York City experienced its most significant population decline since the 1780s, but while population fell overall, the number of minorities living in the city grew. This was especially true in Brooklyn; in 1970 blacks made up a quarter of the population and by 1980 they made up nearly a third.

For some white families who didn’t flee the city, a sense that the territory they occupied was theirs and theirs alone bred a siege mentality. In this view, there were those who belonged and those who trespassed. (This was happening most notably, perhaps, in South Brooklyn, where Mr. Trump had his office in the early 1970s.)

When the outsiders arrived they were shown, too often by the most violent means, just how resistant to porousness their communities could be.

They were told — just as President Trump told four freshman congresswomen, via Twitter this week, none of them white and all of them thoroughly American — to go back to where they came from, a meme he recycled at a rally in North Carolina on Wednesday night to chants of “Send her back!”

Where “they came from” was often merely on the other side of a parkway, a housing complex, a strip mall — beyond the lines and fortresses created for the preservation of a white ethnic dominance that was eroding.

It is this place that the president comes from essentially — a time, a part of the world and a mind-set in which access to certain kinds of power, comfort and rights of assertion was not to be universally shared.

New York in the 1980s was characterized, on the one hand, by the moneyed ostentation Mr. Trump personified, and on the other, by racial violence that housing segregation helped facilitate.

In two of the decade’s most notorious hate crimes, young black men — Michael Griffith in Queens in 1986 and Yusuf Hawkins in Brooklyn three years later — appeared in neighborhoods where they had no obvious connection only to get chased and killed by throngs of mindlessly enraged white boys.

Griffith, who was born in Trinidad and lived in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, was driving with friends on an empty stretch of road late one night just before Christmas, when their car broke down. He and two of the others walked three miles to Howard Beach to get help. Leaving the pizzeria where they had stopped to eat, they were confronted by a mob who beat them. Griffith died running away from them and into a moving car.

Cars, the great American signifiers of social ascension and escape, figured poignantly in these narratives. Hawkins had the misfortune of finding an ad for a used Pontiac he wanted to check out, for sale by an owner in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn.

Also accompanied by three friends, Hawkins, who was 16 at the time and lived in the largely black neighborhood of East New York, ventured into a white, mostly Italian enclave and was shot. Three days later, hundreds of black protesters who marched through Bensonhurst were met by jeering whites who shouted racial slurs at them.

Another murder which predated these but received considerably less attention has mostly faded from memory and could have been prevented. It follows the same bleak arc.

Three black men, transit workers coming off a shift in Coney Island, late one night in June of 1982, stopped for something to eat. In this instance it was a bagel shop on Avenue X in Gravesend, outside of which a black police officer and another black man, on his way home to Queens one night, had also been attacked not long before.

Driving away from the shop, the men were set upon by white teenagers who taunted and screamed at them: “What are you doing in this area?” The car stalled. The teenagers smashed the windows and began assaulting the men inside. One of the three victims, William Turks, who had moved to New York from Birmingham, Ala., was fatally injured, his body landing on a sewer grate.

The first of the young men to go on trial in the case was someone named Gino Bova, who was 18 and lived at 675 Avenue Z in Gravesend. The building was part of the Beach Haven Apartments, one of the large housing complexes built by Fred C. Trump after World War II.

The government’s discrimination case against the Trumps had been settled in a consent decree several years earlier that included stipulations meant to ensure the desegregation of buildings in the company’s empire. In 1978, though, the government accused the Trumps of violating that decree, but while the Justice Department was amassing its evidence, the original agreement expired. The case was ultimately closed in the spring of 1982.

Four black families lived in Mr. Bova’s building, press accounts of the trial pointed out, but how long they had lived there and what feelings they may or may not have triggered in the boy is hard to know.

Despite the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, housing discrimination had been rampant in many parts of the city; other major developers of middle-class apartment buildings, in the precincts beyond Manhattan, had also come under the government’s watch.

What was made all too obvious by 1982 was that it was not safe for black men to wander in New York City in places where they had not been welcomed to live. Mr. Bova’s trial ended with a manslaughter conviction, not the murder conviction that prosecutors sought, by a jury that defense lawyers had engineered to include not a single black person on it.

Before the trial had begun, the commanding officer of the local police precinct, Captain Joseph DeMartini, was asked why nothing had been done sooner to stop the teenagers who had colonized street corners seemingly in a perverse mode of defense against any signs of intrusion.

He responded in the vein of Mr. Bova’s lawyer, who claimed that his client was from “a good family,’’ an all too familiar call to exoneration. The police captain described the majority of the local young people who stood on street corners as “good and decent” individuals who were appalled by what had happened, and who would develop into “outstanding adults.”

The community was “typical,” he said, and if a pattern of brutalized prejudice was emerging, he wasn’t necessarily seeing it. “To say a black gets assaulted and to say it’s racial, I don’t know.”

An earlier version of a picture caption with this article misidentified the apartment building where Donald J. Trump and his father were standing. They were standing atop one of the buildings in the Trump Village apartment complex in Brooklyn.

Ginia Bellafante has served as a reporter, critic and, since 2011, as the Big City columnist. She began her career at The Times as a fashion critic, and has also been a television critic. She previously worked at Time magazine. @GiniaNYT

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