The arc of justice has bent in his favor!
More than three decades ago, Salaam and four other Black and brown teenagers were arrested and charged with savagely beating and raping a white woman in Central Park. The case became known as one of the most notorious racially charged crimes in American history, then real estate mogul Donald Trump fanning the flames by taking out a million dollars worth of newspaper ads calling for the death penalty of “The Central Park 5.” While they maintained their innocence, each of the boys served between five and 12 years in prison before prosecutors re-examined the case. DNA evidence coupled with a confession linked a serial rapist and murderer to the crime, The Guardian reports.
In 2002, the five men’s convictions were vacated and the city of New York agreed to pay Salaam, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise a settlement of $41 million dollars. The men then became the face of criminal justice reform, Salaam calling his seven years in prison a gift that allowed him to see the criminal justice system for what it really was. He called his time behind bars the “belly of the beast,” and has since become a champion for justice in his Harlem community. Now Salaam is writing the next chapter of his story, just recently winning the Democratic primary for a city council seat in New York, representing the same community that has stood behind him all these years.
“What has happened in this campaign has restored my faith in knowing that I was born for this…I am here because, Harlem, you believed in me,” said Salaam during a victory speech to his supporters.
He beat out veteran New York state assembly members Inez Dickens, 73, and Al Taylor, 65. With more than 95% of the votes counted this past Tuesday, Salaam was in the clear lead, Dickens eventually conceding with a commitment to “continue to fight for what [the] community needs.”
This was Salaam’s first time campaigning for public office. He will go on to represent the majority-Black neighborhood in Manhattan. Salaam spoke about the importance of this moment for him and thanked the community for giving him a “second chance,” CNN reports.
“This campaign has been about those who have been counted out. This campaign has been about those who have been forgotten. This campaign has been about our Harlem community who has been pushed into the margins of life and made to believe that they were supposed to be there,” said Salaam.
Congratulations Yusef! You are a true inspiration and representative for the people.
Cover photo: Yusef Salaam, of the exonerated “Central Park Five,” has been elected to the NY City Council/Photo Courtesy of Mary Altaffer/Associated Press