Central Park 5’s Yusef Salaam Vies for Seat on the New York City Council

Central Park 5’s Yusef Salaam Vies for Seat on the New York City Council

After a seat was vacated by Brian Benjamin, Yusef Salaam announced he wanted the New York state Senate seat. Although that didn’t happen, his political aspirations continue, as he has entered into the Democratic primary to determine who will represent Harlem in the city council.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Salaam explained why he wanted to become more involved in politics, despite his lack of experience. The 49-year-old is running against two members of the New York Assembly, Al Taylor and Inez Dickens. Although his inexperience may be used against him, it hasn’t stopped him from wanting to fight for his community.

“I’ve often said that those who have been close to the pain should have a seat at the table,” Salaam told the media outlet.

The story of Salaam has been told many times over the past 34 years, and there was even a Netflix documentary about what happened to him and his childhood friends, When They See Us. 

Salaam was 15 years old in 1989, when he and four other teenage boys of color were falsely imprisoned for the rape and brutal assault of a white woman in New York City’s Central Park. At the time, the boys were demonized in the media (and by Donald J. Trump) and became infamously known as the “Central Park 5.” After serving time in prison, they were exonerated in 2002 after convicted murderer and serial rapist Matias Reyes confessed to the crime.

Through that lens, Salaam feels that people can relate to him.

“When people look at me, and they know my story, they resonate with it,” Salaam said. “But now here we are 34 years later, and I’m able to use that platform that I have and repurpose the pain, help people as we climb out of despair.”

He stated there are similarities with his opposing candidates regarding what they want to do for the community. “We all want affordable housing, we all want safe streets, we all want smarter policing, we all want jobs, we all need education.”

But, he also noted that, even with no political experience, he still has a record of fighting for the resources and support the community needs from a new politician. “I have no track record in politics. I have a great track record in the 34 years of the Central Park jogger case in fighting for freedom, justice, and equality.”

After the election on June 27, Harlem may have fresh blood fighting for them.