From Central Park Five to beacon of hope

Religion News Service | 9/18/2019 | Staff
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(RNS) — In 1989, Yusef Salaam, like many African American teens growing up in New York’s Queens borough, had big dreams of being a hip-hop artist, or maybe a graphic artist. But on April 20 of that year, Salaam, then 15, and four other young black men’s lives were turned upside down. A young woman who had been jogging in Central Park in Manhattan was found early that morning raped and beaten. Salaam, hearing that the police were looking for him, turned himself in, accompanied by his friend Korey Wise, thinking he could convince them of his innocence.

Instead, Salaam, questioned without his parents or a lawyer present, confessed to the crime, as did the other four, including Wise. They became known as the Central Park Five. Despite their attempts to retract their statements, their confessions helped to convict all five of rape and assault. There was no physical evidence of the Central Park Five’s culpability.

Salaam - Years - Prison - Freedom - Man

Salaam served nearly seven years in prison, regaining his freedom in 1997. In 2002, another man came forward to confess to the rape of the Central Park jogger and the convictions were vacated. The Central Park Five received a $41 million settlement from the city of New York (Salaam’s portion was $7 million) though the city admitted no wrongdoing.

In June, Netflix released “When They See Us,” a miniseries about the Central Park Five, directed by Ana DuVernay.

Salaam - Today - Speaker - Religion - News

Salaam, who today is a motivational speaker, talked to Religion News Service in front of an audience of Christian schoolchildren and their teachers near Atlanta. He makes clear that he’s not bitter or angry about his treatment but is focused in talking about his Muslim faith and how “the power of Christianity,” he said, played an influential role in the truth being told. The interview has been edited for...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Religion News Service
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