2/20/2020 Staff

The Criminal (In)Justice System: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

  • Yusef Salaam speaks at the Feb. 20 Common Hour.

Yusef Salaam 
Poet, Activist, and Inspirational Speaker

There is no recording of this event.

On April 19, 1989, a young woman in the prime of her life was brutally raped and left for dead in New York City’s Central Park. Five boys—four black and one Latino—were tried and convicted of the crime in a frenzied case that rocked the city. They became known collectively as “The Central Park Five.”

Their convictions were vacated in 2002 after spending between seven and thirteen years of their lives behind bars. The unidentified DNA in the Central Park Jogger Case, unlinked to any of the five, had finally met its owner, a convicted murderer and serial rapist who confessed. The convictions of the boys, now men, were overturned and they were exonerated. One of those boys, Yusef Salaam, was just 15 years old when his life was upended and changed forever.

Since his release, Yusef has committed himself to advocating and educating people on the issues of false confessions, police brutality and misconduct, press ethics and bias, race and law, and the disparities in America’s criminal justice system. In 2013, documentarians Ken and Sarah Burns released the documentary “The Central Park Five,” which told of this travesty from the perspective of Yusef and his cohorts.

In 2014, The Central Park Five received a multi-million dollar settlement from the city of New York for its grievous injustice against them. Yusef was awarded an Honorary Doctorate that same year and received the President's Life Time Achievement Award in 2016 from President Barack Obama.

He was appointed to the board of the Innocence Project in 2018, and has released a Netflix Feature limited series called “When They See Us” based on the true story of the “Central Park Five” with Ava DuVernay, Oprah Winfrey and Robert De Niro, in May of 2019.

This event was proposed by Rachel St. Louis and the Black Student Union and is sponsored by the Black Student Union; the Department of Government; Weinstein Lecture Fund; The North Foundation and Fulton Bank.

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