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Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated “Central Park Five” has deservingly won a Council seat on Tuesday (Nov. 7), in the same state that he spent 12 years suing for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination, and emotional distress.
Salaam’s New York City feat is the cherry on top of a troubling past, after he wrongly spent seven years imprisoned for a crime that he did not commit. The councilman will now represent a central Harlem district on the City Council, as he won by a landslide.
“In my darkest moments, when seemingly the world was against the so-called Central Park Five, I never gave up hope, and tonight, this victory represents hope for our Harlem community,” Salaam started off his victory speech with family, friends, and supporters around him.
He continued, “To my four brothers who went through that vilification and then exoneration, this win is for those scared kids decades ago who were railroaded through the criminal injustice system that wanted us dead. We survived because we knew we were right, and eventually, the world did, too.”
“My pledge to the community is that you will always see me, be able to talk to me, and reach me – because I am from these streets,” he declared. “This community was there for me when nobody else was, and now it is the honor of a lifetime to give back.”
Salaam’s win comes more than two decades after having his 1990 conviction overturned along with four other Black and Latino men: Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise.
The men, who have come to be known as the Exonerated Five (f.k.a The Central Park 5) were arrested as teenagers and accused of raping and beating a white jogger in Central Park in 1989.
The heinous crime took over media at the time as the young boys’ faces were plastered all over newspapers and evening news stations. The wrongful conviction ignited racial tensions between men of color and the police, as it also shed light on the interrogation tactics used against minors.
Former President Donald Trump, who was only an NYC real estate executive at the time, also added to the tension as he took out large ads in newspapers urging New York to bring back the death penalty. He has since refused to apologize, even after the men were proven innocent.
After an initial uphill battle of trying to prove their not guilty stance, DNA evidence eventually linked a serial rapist to the crime, resulting in the five men suing NYC and later agreeing on a legal settlement of $41 million.
The Exonerated Five’s story was depicted in Netflix’s 2019 docu-series When They See Us, co-written and directed by Ava DuVernay.
“Over 30 years ago, Donald Trump took out full page ads calling for my execution,” Salaam tweeted back in April upon Trump’s arrest for 13 separate counts in Georgia, including racketeering and several fraud and false statement counts. “On the day he was arrested and arraigned, here is my ad in response.”
In an ad, Salaam asked for “Justice & Fairness” to be brought back as he helps “build a brighter future for Harlem!”
— Yusef Abdus Salaam (@dr_yusefsalaam) April 5, 2023
Congratulations Yusef Salaam!
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