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One of the Exonerated Five wants to secure his place in local government. Yusef Salaam is gunning for a spot in the Harlem state Senate.
Salaam was one of five Black and Latino teens falsely accused and convicted of the brutal rape and beating of jogger Trisha Meili in New York’s Central Park in 1989.
The group, which included Korey Wise, Raymond Santana, Antron Mccray, and Kevin Richardson, was once known as the Central Park 5. Their convictions were overturned after the real culprit, serial rapist Matias Reyes, confessed and DNA evidence connected him to the crime.
The New York Daily News reports that Salaam wants to fill the seat being vacated by Harlem state Sen. Brian Benjamin (D). Benjamin was recently nominated to be New York’s next lieutenant governor. Salaam confirmed the news in a recent Instagram post, resharing a screenshot of the headline from the NY Daily News, along with the caption #PowerPost and strong-arm emojis.
Sources close to Salaam say his platform will align with his own experience as a victim of the flawed criminal justice system, including wrongful conviction, prison reform, police brutality, and the abolition of solitary confinement for juveniles. The 47-year-old has been outspoken about the impact his conviction had on his life.
Benjamin’s time in office is scheduled to conclude after Labor Day. The race for his seat includes some local heavy-hitters, including Assemblyman Al Taylor and Assemblywoman Inez Dickens, who currently hold places in the adjoining parts of the 30th Senate district. The coveted district includes Harlem, East Harlem, and the Upper West Side.
Salaam’s story is well-known, thanks to the award-winning PBS documentary The Central Park Five and the subsequent Netflix four-part series When They See Us, directed by Ava DuVernay.
Salaam served almost seven years in jail on first-degree rape and robbery charges. He had already been free for five years before his conviction was vacated in 2002.
In a 2020 interview with FOX News, Salaam said: “At first it was traumatic. But then all the laters began to pull back and we began to feel wonderfully restored as people walked up to us, and shared their stories with us, and told us how important it was for us to stand up and that we gave them life and we gave them the ability to stand up for their own selves.
To see that has been so restorative. Psycho-socially, we know that we matter and we know that we have gone through, what we have gone through, because we needed to grow through it, as opposed to just go through it.”
Despite the adverse circumstances, Salaam earned his GED while in jail. He also earned an associate’s degree from Dutchess Community College before continuing his studies at Hunter College. In 2016, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from President Obama and is a published author of two books.
He remains a dedicated activist, motivational speaker, and author.
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