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Decades after being one of five Black and Latino boys who were falsely accused, tried and convicted of rape, Yusef Salaam has won a Democratic primary race for a seat on the New York City council in Harlem.
“Many doubted us along the way, but this was a campaign based on change,” Salaam said after AP called the race. “The voters overwhelmingly agreed with our vision for a better, stronger and more tolerant community.
With NYC being a Democratic stronghold, Salaam is expected to easily beat his Republican opponent in the general election and become one of 51 NYC councilors.
From incarceration to city council
In 1985, during a time when hysteria around youth violence had reached a fever pitch, Salaam and four other Black and Latino teens were accused of being involved in one of NYC’s most gruesome and notorious assault crimes.
Dramatized by Ava Duvernay in her 2019 Netflix series “When They See Us,” the boys were questioned by police without their parents present and pressured into giving false confessions. The case became known as the Central Park Five, with then-New York real estate mogul Donald Trump calling for their execution.
Determined to make sure what happened to him never happens to anyone else, Salaam entered the city council race late with a mission to make criminal justice reform a priority for New Yorkers.
“We are going to have a new Harlem Renaissance,” he said in a statement after his victory.
According to NBC News, many voters were looking for new leadership while others were drawn to his story.
“He comes from the neighborhood, and he was incarcerated then turned himself around,” voter Carnation France told NBC News. “He’s trying to do something for the people.”
He and his opponents all ran on a platform of easing poverty and promoting affordable housing, and easing gentrification. Yet it was Salaam’s personal journey that catapulted him above the field of candidates.