Exonerated ‘Central Park Five, Yusef Salaam, New York City Council

Yusef Salaam Joins The New York City Council

Yusef Salaam, an exonerated Central Park Five member, won a seat on the New York City Council and now represents the central Harlem district.

On Nov. 7, Yusef Salaam, an exonerated Central Park Five member, won a seat on the New York City Council, AP reported. The news comes decades after he spent nearly seven years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

Salaam maintained a victorious campaign after winning his Democratic primary elections by a landslide. The lifelong resident of Harlem, NY, who had no track record in politics, will now leverage his decades-long activism and education to serve as a championing voice in the central Harlem district. On the campaign trail, Salaam aimed to energize and activate voters who were eager to change the issues facing the community: housing, workforce and economic development opportunities, justice and safety, environmental justice, and more.

“For me, this means that we can really become our ancestors’ wildest dreams,” Salaam told the news outlet before the election.

As a board member of the Innocence Project, founding member of Justice 4 the Wrongfully Incarcerated, and 25-year member of the Frederick E. Samuel Community Democratic Club, Salaam’s ambitious efforts in the community hit closer to home. He spent 12 years fighting for freedom, justice, and equality in the infamous Central Park jogger case.

Salaam was just 15 years old when he was wrongfully accused and charged with the assault and rape of Trisha Meili, a white woman, in Central Park in New York City. The following year, he and four other teenagers were convicted despite inconsistent confessions, DNA evidence exclusion, and a lack of other evidence connecting them to the crime scene. Salaam was sentenced to 5 to 10 years. Eventually, in 2002, DNA testing corroborated the confession of the real culprit, which led to the overturned convictions of all five teenagers. The teens also received a combined multi-million dollar settlement from the city.

Though burdened by the past, Salaam is walking in his power of forgiveness and advocacy, BLACK ENTERPRISE previously reported.

“I’m dedicating my life to being useful to my community, to my neighborhood, to my city,” Salaam previously told Esquire. “And to do that means letting go of some burdens of the past. Never forgetting, but forgiving. There is power in forgiving.”

Over the past two decades, Salaam has expanded his family, knowledge, and outreach. He has been on a mission to educate the public about the impact of mass incarceration and police brutality, advocating for criminal justice reform, prison reform, and the abolition of juvenile solitary confinement and capital punishment, according to his campaign website.