Salaam ran unopposed after winning the Democratic primary in the city’s 9th District in a landslide. The district extends from the northernmost parts of Harlem down to the top of Central Park, where a marker known as the Gate of the Exonerated honors Salaam and four other Black and brown teenagers who were falsely accused of rape in 1989.
Donald Trump is widely remembered for his calls for the state of New York to bring back the death penalty at the time, calls he made in a newspaper ad that Salaam mocked — to great effect — during his council campaign.
The five teens were incarcerated for several years before a serial rapist confessed to the crime. Their convictions were vacated in 2002, and they are now known as the “Exonerated Five.”
On the night of the June primary, when it was clear Salaam was all but guaranteed eventual victory, he shared some powerful remarks about the path he has walked. In a speech to his future constituents, he said:
Every single thing that happens to you happens for you. Having to be kidnapped from my home — as a 15-year-old child — to be lodged in the belly of the beast, I was gifted to turn that experience into the womb of America. I was gifted because I was able to see it for what it really was: a system that was trying to make me believe that I was my ancestors’ wildest nightmare, but I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams.
In an interview on “The ReidOut” after his primary win, Salaam told Joy that his experience has allowed him “to understand the system from the inside out, so that when the time came I could really be an advocate for our people, understanding really what the pain points are.” (You can watch the full interview here.)
It’s often said that America is the “land of opportunity,” where people can be afforded second chances. Some folks may be inclined to think this marks a second chance of sorts for Salaam.
But I think it’s New York that is being granted a mulligan here. A chance to show that this city can lift up people like Yusef Salaam — and not just try to swallow them whole.