ABC’s ’20/20: One Night in Central Park’ chronicles the horrific story of what transpired on the night of April 19, 1989, in the northern part of the infamous Manhattan park. Trisha Meili, a jogger, was beaten, bound, and raped, and there were reports of a series of other attacks against no less than eight other people that night. Five young defendants were falsely accused and convicted of assaulting the jogger. They served out their entire sentences before they were exonerated, following the confession of Matias Reyes (a serial rapist and murderer) for the crime. Yusef Salaam was one of the five who were convicted, nicknamed the Central Park Five – now Exonerated Five. Curious to know more about him? Let’s find out!
Who Is Yusef Salaam?
Yusef Salaam was just 15-years-old when he was taken into custody by the police. He was in Central Park with a group of his friends that night, and when Trisha was found, the police were looking to question almost everyone, and that included Yusef. He went there to answer any questions that they might have for him with his best friend, Korey Wise, who was only there to support him. But, one thing led to another, and he started being severely interrogated by the police about being her assaulter, and somehow, Korey was dragged into it as one of the suspects as well.
Without a lawyer present in the room, or even somebody who might guide this scared and naive teenager, the investigators questioned Yusef for hours on end, without any breaks. He was subject to intimidation, confusion, exhaustion, and manipulation, and was pushed to give false answers. In the end, a confession was coerced out of him. And, even though, he didn’t sign a written one, his verbal one was considered enough to charge and convict him. The contradictions in the confession, the fact that there was no DNA evidence against him, and his mentioning that he was pressured into it, didn’t seem to matter.
In 1990, Yusef Salaam was convicted of rape and assault and was sentenced to 5-10 years in a correctional facility. He served 6 years and 8 months before his release. For the next five years, even though he was free, he still had the rape charge against his name and was subject to public hatred. But, fortunately, Matias Reyes confessed to being the sole assaulter of Trisha in 2002. And, when DNA evidence corresponded with his statement, the Central Park Five were exonerated.
Where Is Yusef Salaam Today?
Yusef Salaam got the coverage he deserved from New York City in 2014, after they settled the civil lawsuit filed against them by the Exonerated Five by agreeing to give them a financial compensation of $41 million, one for every year served by the individuals in prison. While Yusef was incarcerated, he earned his GED, and after that, upon his release, he obtained a college degree as well. Today, at the age of 47, he resides in Georgia with his wife and 10 children, and works as a poet and motivational speaker.
His public speeches mostly focus on pushing for policy change in the criminal justice system, which he highlights by stating his own experiences. On his website, Yusef Speaks, he states that he has traveled all over America and the Caribbean to give lectures and provide insightful information that raises significant questions about racism, the criminal justice system, and the protection policies and human rights that are allowed to individuals upon their release from prison. He just wants to educate the public.
In 2014, Yusef was named an honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Anointed by God Ministries Alliance & Seminary, and in 2016, shortly before Donald Trump’s election, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from President Barack Obama. Currently, Yusef also serves as a board member for the Innocence Project. (Featured Image Credit: Innocence Project)
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