'Exonerated Five' member Yusef Salaam wins New York City Council seat

Wednesday, November 8, 2023
Yusef Salaam, member of 'Exonerated Five,' wins NYC Council seat
Jim Dolan has more on Yusef Salaam's Election Day win.

NEW YORK -- Yusef Salaam, the author and activist, who was one wrongly imprisoned as a teenager as part of the infamous 1989 "Central Park Five" case, has won a seat on the New York City Council.

Salaam, a Democrat, will represent a central Harlem district on the City Council, having run unopposed for the seat in one of many local elections held across New York state Tuesday. He won his primary election in a landslide.

The victory comes more than two decades after DNA evidence was used to overturn the convictions of Salaam and four other Black and Latino men in the 1989 rape and beating of a white jogger in Central Park. Salaam was arrested at age 15 and imprisoned for almost seven years.

"In my darkest moments, when seemingly the world was against the so-called Central Park Five, I never gave up hope," said Salaam in a statement after the election. "Tonight, this victory represents hope for our Harlem community. 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."

Salaam's candidacy is a reminder of what the war on crime can look like when it goes too far.

Salaam was arrested along with Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise and accused of attacking a woman running in Central Park.

The crime dominated headlines in the city, inflaming racial tensions as police rounded up Black and Latino men and boys for interrogation. Former President Donald Trump, then just a brash real estate executive in the city, took out large ads in newspapers that implored New York to bring back the death penalty.

The teens convicted in the attack served between five and 12 years in prison before the case was reexamined.

A serial rapist and murderer was eventually linked to the crime through DNA evidence and a confession. The convictions of the Central Park Five were vacated in 2002 and they received a combined $41 million settlement from the city.

Salaam campaigned on easing poverty and combatting gentrification in Harlem. He often mentioned his conviction and imprisonment on the trail - his place as a symbol of injustice helping to animate the overwhelmingly Black district and propel him to victory.

"I am coming to City Hall at a time of great crisis," he said. "The hard work begins now. 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. This community was there for me when nobody else was, and now it is the honor of a lifetime to give back. We have a lot of work to do, and it won't be easy, but I am ready to put everything into it. This community expects and deserves nothing less."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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