In August of 1990, Yusef Salaam, then 15 years old, told the judge at his sentencing hearing that he looked at “this legal lynching as a test by my God Allah.” On Tuesday, nearly 23 years later, Salaam — an exonerated man, poet, author, and activist — is poised to win the New York City Council primary in his home district of Harlem.
Salaam was one of five teenagers in the “Central Park 5,” a group of teens wrongfully convicted for the rape and assault of a jogger in New York City’s Central Park in 1989. He served seven years in juvenile detention before his conviction was overturned in 2002.
On Tuesday night, Salaam was set to win the democratic vote by over 50 percent in a district unlikely to elect a Republican in November’s general election.
He spoke to his supporters on Tuesday night, tearing up, and for a moment seemed somewhat stunned. “Harlem is the place that gave me a second chance,” he said. “I am my ancestors wildest dream.”
His campaign has focused heavily on bettering the lives of those in the community that raised him, including through housing justice, economic advancement, and police and law enforcement reform. “I’ve often said that those who have been close to the pain should have a seat at the table,” he told the Associated Press in an interview earlier this month.
In 1989, Salaam and four others — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise — were accused of attempted murder, rape and assault of jogger Trisha Meili. The accused were Black and Latino youths between the ages of 14 and 16, Meili was a white woman in her late twenties. The attack was the subject of frenzied media coverage and public outrage.
Former President Donald Trump infamously purchased several full-page spreads in various newspapers calling for the death penalty to be reinstated. (He has never apologized.)
Prosecutor Linda Fairstein, at the time considered the gold standard for sexual crimes investigations, plowed forward with her indictment of the youths despite contradictory witness statements and an absence of forensic evidence linking any of the accused to the crime. All five were convicted.
It wasn’t until 2002 that another man, Matias Reyes, confessed to having committed the crime. DNA evidence confirmed it. The convictions of the Exonerated Five — as they are now known — were overturned, but by then great damage had been done to the lives of those accused, including Salaam.
The needs Salaam has identified in his community relate to his own experiences as a victim of false imprisonment and the aftermath of life as a convict. “When I came back here from prison, I couldn’t afford my apartment,” Salaam told Air Mail earlier this month. “I remember that big, orange eviction sticker on my door. I remember the shame I felt when my neighbors saw that.”
He added, “We have to climb out of the gravitational pull of all the negatives that pull us down.”
Source link: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/yusef-salaam-nyc-council-primary-wins-1234779788/