Yusef Salaam, who gained international attention as one of the wrongfully accused United States teenagers in the Central Park Five case, has won a seat on the New York City Council.
Salaam, a Democrat, was elected unopposed to a central Harlem district in one of many local elections held across New York state on Tuesday.
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He won July’s primary in a landslide.
The victory comes more than two decades after DNA evidence led to the Central Park Five’s convictions being overturned.
Salaam was arrested when he was just 15 and spent almost seven years in prison.
“For me, this means that we can really become our ancestors’ wildest dreams,” Salaam said in an interview before the election.
Salaam was arrested along with Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise – all Black or Latino teenagers – and accused of the rape and assault of a white woman who was out running in Central Park in 1989.
The crime dominated headlines in the city, inflaming racial tensions as police rounded up Black and Latino men and boys for interrogation. Former President Donald Trump, then just a brash real-estate executive in the city, took out large ads in newspapers that implored New York to bring back the death penalty.
The teens convicted in the attack served between five and 12 years in prison before the case was reexamined.
A serial rapist and murderer was eventually linked to the crime through DNA evidence and a confession.
The Central Park Five’s convictions were vacated in 2002 and the men eventually received a combined $41m settlement from the city.
Salaam campaigned on easing poverty and combatting gentrification in Harlem. He often told voters about his conviction and imprisonment – his place as a symbol of injustice helping to animate the overwhelmingly Black district and propel him to victory.
“I am really the ambassador for everyone’s pain,” he said. “In many ways, I went through that for our people so I can now lead them.”