Yusef Salaam was one of the Central Park Five, a group of Black and Latino teenagers who went to prison for the rape of a white woman jogging in Central Park in 1989.
In 2002, the Manhattan District Attorney vacated the convictions because of evidence confirming they did not commit the crime. The city of New York has so far failed to reach a settlement in the suit filed by the Central Park Five. However, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has indicated that he favors a settlement to the case. Salaam, who is now a wireless administrator with a health care company, spoke about that development with Jonathan P. Hicks of BET.com.
BET.com: What is your reaction to Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s position about the need for a settlement with the Central Park Five?
Yusef Salaam: I am overjoyed at the possibility that this great injustice is finally coming to an end. I say that because of the fact that this has gone on so long. What Mr. de Blasio is essentially saying is that justice delayed is justice denied. And that’s a great moment for me and all of us.
How did you learn about the Mayor-elect’s disposition on this matter?
I heard about it from Twitter. The Twitter world operates at a fast pace. I found out about it before it came out in news stories. I read it and thought, wow, how excellent.
This represents a shift of tone from the position of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, which did not settle the suit, despite the calls of a number of elected officials to settle the matter. Why do you think Bloomberg didn’t arrive at the conclusion that de Blasio has?
It’s hard to say. It’s just a hunch of mine, but when you have people who have worked together for a long time, it’s often a situation where one hand washes the other. Mayor Bloomberg has a long relationship with his administration’s lawyers.
It didn’t seem to matter that this case has gone on for so long and that, when the movie came out, people began to realize that there had been a real injustice. People started realizing that all the confessions were false and that we were innocent. But that didn’t have any impact on Bloomberg, and I don’t know why.
What would you like to see happen now?
I would like to see a period put on the end of this, finally. This has been something that hasn’t just gone on for 10 years, but for 25 years. It started when we were falsely arrested and convicted. Even after we were cleared, people still didn’t think we were innocent. There was still a stigma attached to us. I would like for this to be finished and done. I want justice to be served as strongly and as finally with us being innocent as when they thought we were guilty.
You speak a lot now to groups about your experience in the Central Park Five case. What lessons do you want your audiences to derive from your experience?
The biggest lesson is that, even though people do it all the time, though, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. I would like to see people be a little more skeptical of what they see in the media. Not everything you see or read in the media is true. If everything doesn’t add up in a case, people have to learn to ask questions and to be skeptical.
If you had a chance to meet with Mayor-elect de Blasio, what would you say to him?
If I could talk with him, the first thing I would do would be to thank him. I would tell him that we need to continue to urge the politicians to fight for justice. I would urge Mr. de Blasio and other elected officials to make sure this city becomes a changed city. It’s a great city. It could be an even greater city if we have leaders who are committed to justice.
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(Photo: Roger Walsh /Landov)
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