Yusef Salaam, one of the five men who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for the 1989 Central Park jogger case, has won a seat on the New York City Council. Salaam, a Democrat, ran unopposed for the central Harlem district and won his primary election by a large margin. He said his victory was a fulfillment of his ancestors’ wildest dreams.
“This is the fulfillment of the wildest dreams of my ancestors. This is the fulfillment of the wildest dreams of my mother and father, who are no longer here with us physically, but they are here with us spiritually.” – Yusef Salaam
Salaam was 15 years old when he was arrested along with four other Black and Latino teens and coerced into confessing to a crime they did not commit. They were accused of raping and beating a white woman who was jogging in Central Park. The case, which was dubbed the “Central Park Five” by the media, sparked a racial frenzy and a demand for harsh punishment. The five teens were convicted and sentenced to between five and 15 years in prison, despite the lack of physical evidence and the inconsistencies in their statements.
They were exonerated in 2002 after DNA evidence and another man’s confession cleared their names. The city of New York agreed to pay them $41 million in a settlement in 2014. The case was also the subject of a documentary by Ken Burns and a Netflix series by Ava DuVernay, both titled “When They See Us”.
Salaam has since become an activist, author, and speaker on criminal justice reform and racial justice. He has received several awards and honors, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from President Barack Obama in 2016. He also holds a doctorate in human letters from Anointed by God Ministries Alliance & Seminary.
“I am honored to be able to serve the people of Harlem, to be able to serve the people of New York City, to be able to serve the people of the world.” – Yusef Salaam
Salaam’s election was celebrated by many, including Mayor-elect Eric Adams, Governor Kathy Hochul, and his fellow members of the Exonerated Five: Korey Wise, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, and Antron McCray.
“He’s a living testament to the power of resilience and the human spirit. He’s a champion for justice and a voice for the voiceless.” – Mayor-elect Eric Adams on Yusef Salaam
“He has turned his pain into purpose, and he will be a tremendous advocate for his community and for all New Yorkers who have been failed by our criminal justice system.” – Governor Kathy Hochul on Yusef Salaam
“We are so proud of him and what he has accomplished. He has shown us that anything is possible with faith, courage, and determination.” – Korey Wise, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, and Antron McCray, the other four members of the Exonerated Five
Salaam will join the City Council in January 2024, along with a historic number of women and people of color. He said he hopes to use his platform to address issues such as affordable housing, education, health care, and public safety. He also said he wants to inspire others who have faced injustice and adversity.
“My message to them is that you are not what they say you are. You are what you say you are. And you have to believe in yourself, and you have to fight for yourself, and you have to stand up for yourself.” – Yusef Salaam
– Exonerated ‘Central Park Five’ member Yusef Salaam wins New York City Council seat, Associated Press on November 7, 2023
– ‘Exonerated Five’ member Yusef Salaam wins council seat in NYC, MSNBC on November 8, 2023
– ‘Central Park Five’ Member Wins New York City Council Seat, MSN on November 8, 2023
– Yusef Salaam, exonerated ‘Central Park Five’ member, poised to win NYC council seat, PBS on November 7, 2023