“Central Park Five” member Yusef Salaam said he looked in the mirror the other day and saw gray hairs—a true sign that the payback for what he’s been through over the past 25 years has taken far too long to materialize.
“The young folks don’t even know about the Central Park Five. You tell the story to them and they think you are telling them about some fictitious [story or] something make-believe. They said never again with the Scottsboro Boys, but we’re the modern-day Scottsboro Boys,” he said standing alongside his mother, Sharonne Salaam.
Salaam and his “brothers” Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Kharey Wise have been symbols of strength and patience since their release from prison. The pain, they say, has not let up and no amount of money can repay what they have lost.
On Tuesday, Brooklyn City Councilwoman Inez Barron held a press conference on the steps of City Hall demanding that Mayor Bill de Blasio settle the case involving the Central Park Five. De Blasio made nods during his campaign to repaying the men who spent years behind bars for a rape that was later proved them innocent of the crime.
Joining Barron was Council Members Andy King, Jumaane Williams and Inez Dickens, state Sen. Bill Perkins and former City Comptroller John Liu. All support the idea of swift settlement of $250 million.
It seems supporters of the Central Park Five are trying to be part of the mayor’s trend of making good with promises he made. He was recently praised by some for following through on his promise to withdraw the city’s appeal in the stop-and-frisk ruling that found the practice unconstitutional.
However, reports indicate that on Wednesday, de Blasio reaffirmed his promise to settle the Central Park Five case. He said on Tuesday at another press conference that the settlement would be “swift.”
The lawsuit was filed in 2003, and the mayor said newly appointed Corporate Counsel Zachary Carter has started on the settlement.
“This is a continuing battle because it has not yet ended,” Barron said. “We’ve heard the words, ‘Yes, we want to move forward and conclude this matter.’ But having been in the Legislature for five years, what I have found is that what is said is not oftentimes what is concluded. We’ve got to stay vigilant.”
Resolutions that have been passed in both the City Council and the state Senate acknowledge that an injustice was done to the Central Park Five.
“We have a new mayor who has captured the notion of injustice in a phrase of ‘A Tale of Two Cities,” Perkins said. “Nothing underscores that [more] than the case of the Central Park Five. Twenty-five years of them having to suffer this tragedy—it’s time to get paid.”
Santana said that the labels, false imprisonment and the destruction of their families’ structures are just some of the long-term effects that have damaged the lives of the Central Park Five.
“We were given a social death besides being given a prison sentence,” he said. “We weren’t supposed to survive, but through the grace of God, we are here today. This has been a long journey, and we have all grown old together. It could have been different; we could have died in prison.”
In a statement, the December 12th Movement said that as the 25th anniversary of the Central Park Five jogger case approaches, one of the greatest violations of human rights in the annals of New York City history, we must always be true to that history.
“Now, 25 years after a police, district attorney’s office and media conspiracy to criminalize those children, even calling for the death penalty; now, after 11 years of litigation; now, after resolutions from the City Council and failed attempts at resolution at every level from New York state to the federal courts, we are at a decisive moment,” the December 12th Movement said. “Remember, there are Central Park sixes, sevens, eights and nines that continue to be victims of this racist justice system and those we know by their actions of supporting it.”