Yusef Salaam seems to still be adjusting to the news that New York City and its comptroller have agreed to a $40 million settlement for him and his fellow Central Park Five, the five wrongfully incarcerated men once accused of a sensational 1989 crime.
Salaam said he was deeply grateful for the position of Mayor Bill de Blasio and Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, but he nonetheless remains mindful of the lessons the public should learn from the situation that he and the other four faced.
“If I had it my way, justice would look different,” Salaam said, in an interview with BET.com. “It would be a more complete justice. We would be financially compensated. But there are people who would have to answer for what they did. “
Salaam, who was arrested as a teenager, is now working as an administrator with a health care company in Queens. He contends that he and the other defendants were coerced into offering confessions. Such practices, he said, are widely common and that officers need to be held accountable.
“In our case, there were people who worked to pull out false confessions,” he said. “This was a practice that was used by the city’s police department over and over again and they were getting away with it. It took 13 years for our sentences to be vacated.”
He added: “It says a lot for the city to open its purse and pay money and admit they were wrong. But had this happened to people who were affluent, what would their parents want? They wouldn’t just want justice for their children, but they would want answers and some accountability.
Along with Salaam were Kharey Wise, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson and Raymond Santana. At the time of their arrest, they ranged in age from 14 to 16.
Salaam also said that in similar cases, some form of payment should be made to the families of wrongfully convicted former prisoners.
“The family members are the ones who fought harder that anyone,” he said. “My mother lost her ability to earn a living. She had to hide my brothers and sisters to make sure they could make something of themselves. No one should have to do this.”
If nothing else, he said the settlement, which must still be approved by a federal judge, will allow him and the other four men to bring some closure to the incident.
“At least this gives us the opportunity to close this ugly chapter,” Salaam said, “This ushers in a new era with regard to justice being served. I hope our situation will cause more people to see actually how justice actually works, you recognize that people are often wrongfully convicted.”
Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan
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(Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)