Yusef Salaam, who was one of five teenagers wrongfully convicted for the infamous 1989 attack on a jogger in Central Park, has continued the remarkable progress that he and the others have made since being cleared of that crime. Now, Salaam will take his public life and activism to a new level as voters elected him to represent Harlem on the New York City Council.
On Tuesday, Yusef Salaam officially won the election for an open New York City Council seat. Earlier this year, Salaam won a crowded Democratic primary election for the seat, and he faced no Republican challenger, making Tuesday’s election more of a formality. Salaam will now represent Harlem on the council. On Wednesday, supporters greeted Salaam as he celebrated his victory while speaking with a reporter from CBS News. Among the supporters who congratulated Salaam was a man incarcerated with him who got to take a picture with Harlem’s new councilman.
“He was on Riker’s Island in C74 when I was there,” Salaam said of the man who shook his hand and asked for a picture, “and I wasn’t supposed to be there.”
In 1989, Salaam and four other Black and Latino boys were wrongfully convicted for the rape and assault of a white Central Park jogger. The boys were sent to prison after a rush to judgment and coerced “confessions” in the case; Salaam, who was 15 years old at the time, served nearly seven years behind bars. The “Central Park Five” were eventually exonerated when another man confessed to the crime, and the DNA evidence confirmed this account. In 2014, New York City settled a lawsuit with the “Exonerated Five” for $40 million. Salaam has been one of the group’s most vocal and publicly active members, becoming an activist and a public speaker to push for criminal justice reform.
Salaam entered politics in 2021, running for a New York State Senate seat to represent Harlem. Salaam has also criticized former President Donald Trump for his attacks against the group. In 1989, Trump took out a full-page newspaper ad that called for the five teenagers to be executed. In turn, Salaam took out a full-page ad, mirroring the layout of the Trump piece after Trump was indicted and arraigned for the first time earlier this year.
Now, as Trump has been spending his days in a New York courtroom, Salaam takes on new authority in the city. As a councilman, Salaam is expected to continue pushing for criminal justice reforms while tackling issues like affordable housing and gentrification in Harlem. And decades after Salaam was unjustly taken from his neighborhood and life at home, Harlem has shown that it supports him and his advocacy for the community.