Central Park 5 exoneree and council member says police stopped him without giving a reason

By Maysoon Khan | Associated Press/Report for America

New York City Council Member Yusef Salaam, a member of the exonerated group of men known as the Central Park Five, says he was stopped and pulled over by police without being given an explanation.

The police stop in New York City on Friday casts a renewed light on a police transparency bill, called the How Many Stops Act, that City Council members are set to vote on Tuesday to override Mayor Eric Adams’ veto. It would require officers to publicly report on all investigative stops, including relatively low-level encounters with civilians.

In the encounter with Salaam, which lasted less than a minute at 6:20 p.m., a police officer — heard in body camera footage provided Saturday by the New York Police Department — asks Salaam to roll down the back windows of his car.

But after Salaam identifies himself as a council member and asks if everything is OK, the officer quickly withdraws without providing further explanation for the stop. What Salaam says next is inaudible.

Police later said in a statement that Salaam was stopped for driving with a dark tint beyond legal limits.

The police officer conducted himself professionally and respectfully, the NYPD said in the statement, adding that he used discretion to allow the council member to complete his official duties.

“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 underreported,” Salaam, a Democrat, said in a statement.

City Council Member Sandy Nurse said she was on a video call with Salaam and other people when he was pulled over. Nurse said she heard Salaam ask the officer for the reason for the stop, for which none was given.

Salaam and four other Black or Latino men were falsely accused and convicted of raping and beating a white jogger in Central Park in 1989. Salaam was arrested at age 15 and imprisoned for almost seven years. Their convictions were eventually overturned through DNA evidence.

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Salaam won a seat on the New York City Council in November and represents a central Harlem district.

“At a time when Black and Latino New Yorkers continue to be disproportionately subjected to unconstitutional stops that go underreported, and civilian complaints of misconduct are at their highest level in over a decade, the need for basic transparency is clear,” New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said in a statement Friday about the legislation, before the traffic stop.

Maysoon Khan is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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