Yusef Salaam becomes a New York City Council member

Yusef Salaam was sworn in as a member of the New York City Council on December 20 after he spent 6.8 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

Salaam took the oath of office in the City Council Chamber in Lower Manhattan with his right hand raised and his left hand on the Quran. The Quran is the central religious text of Islam, believed by Muslims to be a revelation from God held by his wife, Sanovia.

“I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of New York,†Mr. Salaam said. “I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of council member of the ninth district, in the borough and county of New York, in the City of New York, according to the best of my ability,†said Salaam. He was surrounded by his mother, his wife, their children, and well-wishers. 

Salaam was imprisoned as a member of the so-called “The Central Park Five†in 1989. The five boys were 14 and 15 years old, except one who was 16. Four teens were Black, and one teen was Latino —Antron McCray, 15; Kevin Richardson, 15; Yusef Salaam, 15; Raymond Santana, 14; and Korey Wise, 16—came to be known as the Central Park Five.

They were accused of assaulting Trisha Meili, 29, a white investment banker who came to be known during the investigation as the “Central Park Jogger.†She. was attacked and sexually assaulted on April 29, 1989.

The police controlled the narrative, charging that the boys were out “wilding,†a made-up word at times, and the media swallowed their characterization whole. 

The case in New York occurred about the same time as Carol Stewart’s murder in Boston. She was murdered on October 23, 1989. 

Chuck Stewart claimed that a Black man shot his pregnant wife and him during an attempted carjacking. The police went through Black neighborhoods like Mission Hill, arresting Black men and boys and ordering them to strip in the streets. 

The Boston police were wearing blinders in their search for Stewart’s Black male killer when Mathew Stewart, Charles’s brother, went to the police and told them that it was a hoax. Charles killed his wife, and he later took his own life.

Police in both cities viewed cases as hot because Meili and Carol Stewart were White. And Black man had been accused of raping Meili, and a Black man was accused had shot and killed Stewart. 

In the Central Park case, none of the boys knew each other. They told the police what they wanted to hear and were coerced to say, believing the police would let them go home after enduring 20 interrogations without lawyers present.

Former Mayor Edward I. Koch called the teenagers “monsters.†

Donald Trump, then a prominent developer, took out full-page advertisements about the case in newspapers, including The New York Times. “Bring Back the Death Penalty,†the headline said.

The cops celebrated sending the boys to prison at Elaine’s, a high-end New York City restaurant, according to the documentary “The Central Park Five,” by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon.

The boys were gone and had been put away for a long time when Matias Reyes, a serial rapist, admitted he committed the crime for which the boys, now men, were serving time.

None of the DNA on Meilli’s clothing was from any of the boys; it was all from Reyes. 

In September 2014, a U.S. District Court judge approved a settlement, paying the five men just under $41 million. McCray, Richardson, Salaam, and Santana each received $7.125 million; Wise received $12.25 million. They also shared $3.9 million in state compensation.