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NYC council member and Central Park Five exoneree says he was unjustifiably pulled over by police

NYC council member and Central Park Five exoneree says he was unjustifiably pulled over by police

New York City council member Yusef Salaam, a member of the exonerated Central Park Five, says he was unjustly pulled over by police while driving with his family in Harlem on Friday night.

Mr Salaam said in a statement that the NYPD officer refused to explain why he had been pulled over, and that he was backing out of a planned ride along with police and Mayor Eric Adams on Saturday night in protest.

“Last night, while driving with my wife and children and listening in to a call with my Council colleagues on speakerphone, I was pulled over by an NYPD officer in my beloved Village of Harlem within the 28th Precinct,” Mr Salaam said in a statement on Saturday 27 January.

“I introduced myself as Councilman Yusef Salaam, and subsequently asked the officer why I was pulled over. Instead of answering my question, the officer stated, ‘We’re done here,’ and proceeded to walk away.”

The NYPD released a statement saying the officer had pulled over Mr Salaam’s blue sedan at about 6.20pm for “driving with dark tint beyond legal limits”, which is a violation of New York state law.

The officer said he was informed that Mr Salaam was on official council business, and used his discretion to let the lawmaker off, the statement said.

New York City Council candidate Yusef Salaam said an NYPD officer refused to explain why he was pulled over (Associated Press)
New York City Council candidate Yusef Salaam said an NYPD officer refused to explain why he was pulled over (Associated Press)

The officer was polite, professional and respectful throughout the encounter, the NYPD said.

It released body-worn footage of the encounter, which it said supported the officer’s account.

Mr Salaam spent nearly seven years in prison after being falsely convicted along with four other teenagers of the 1989 rape of a female jogger in Central Park, in a notorious miscarriage of justice depicted in the 2019 Netflix drama When They See Us.

He was elected to the city council in November and appointed chair of the Committee on Public Safety which oversees the NYPD earlier this month.

Mr Salaam has been outspoken in his criticism of Mr Adams for vetoing  the “How Many Stops Act”, which would require NYPD officers to publicly report on all investigative stops, including low-level encounters with civilians.

He said his encounter with police illustrated why greater transparency around how the NYPD conducts police stops was needed.

“The fact that the officer did not provide a rationale for the stop calls into question how the NYPD justifies its stops of New Yorkers and highlights the need for greater transparency to ensure they are constitutional,” Mr Salaam said.

“This experience only amplified the importance of transparency for all police investigative stops, because the lack of transparency allows racial profiling and unconstitutional stops of all types to occur and often go unreported.”

Mr Salaam was one of several council members who had agreed to to attend a ride along with NYPD officers in Harlem on Saturday night to see how officers interacted with the public.

He said the police encounter, “coupled with the lack of logistical details provided” by Mr Adams’ office about the ride along caused him to back out.

Salaam at his swearing in ceremony in December (John McCarten/NYC Council Media Unit)
Salaam at his swearing in ceremony in December (John McCarten/NYC Council Media Unit)

He said he planned to “organically develop constructive relationships” with the police precincts in his Harlem district.

“Many of us in the Council know what it’s like to feel vulnerable and powerless when stopped by an officer, because we have personally experienced triggering interactions like I had last night,” the lawmaker added.

“It is our duty as public servants to collect the data necessary to determine the pervasiveness of these stops, and solutions to build the trust necessary to make our neighborhoods safer.”

In a statement, Mr Adams said: “We appreciate Councilmember Salaam, the new Public Safety chair of the City Council, for bringing this stop to our attention.

“We also appreciate and commend the NYPD for following all proper police procedures and being respectful during last night’s interaction, as the video and vehicle stop report show. The village of Harlem deserves nothing less, and we are remain excited to work with Councilmember Salaam.”