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31 years later, one of exonerated Central Park Five to speak at Augustana College in Rock Island

31 years later, one of exonerated Central Park Five to speak at Augustana College in Rock Island

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Yusef Salaam — one of the exonerated “Central Park Five” — will give a free talk at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 7, at Augustana College in Rock Island about the justice system and his personal journey since he was among those wrongfully convicted in an infamous New York City rape case.

Salaam, 45, was one of five black and Latino teens falsely charged and subsequently convicted of a brutal attack and rape in 1989 in New York City's Central Park.

His talk will be presented in Centennial Hall, 3703 7th Ave., Rock Island, commemorating the Black Power Symposium organized in 1969 by students in Augustana's Afro-American Society, which currently is called the Black Student Union.

After six years and eight months in prison, Salaam and the other were exonerated. On Dec. 19, 2002, on the recommendation of the Manhattan district attorney, the convictions of the five men were overturned, according to innocenceproject.org.

On the night of April 19, 1989, a 28-year-old female jogger was attacked and raped in New York’s Central Park. She was found unconscious. Her skull was fractured; her body temperature at 84 degrees; and 75% of her blood had drained from her body, according to the Innocence Project site.

When she recovered, she had no memory of the assault. Initial police investigations quickly focused on a group of African-American and Latino youths who were in police custody for a series of other attacks perpetrated in the park that night. Salaam was 15 years old at the time.

The investigation of the convictions of these five teenagers has raised questions regarding police coercion and false confessions, as well as the vulnerability of juveniles during police interrogations.

In September 2014, the Central Park Five received a multimillion dollar settlement from the city of New York for its grievous injustice against them, according to yusefspeaks.com.

Salaam’s experience led him to advocate for criminal justice reform, earn a doctorate, and receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from former President Barack Obama, according to his bio. He was part of "The Central Park Five," a 2012 Peabody Award-winning documentary by filmmaker Ken Burns. Oscar nominee and Emmy Award winner Ava DuVernay captured his experience in the recent Netflix miniseries, "When They See Us."

In 2014, Salaam was granted an honorary doctorate of humanities from Anointed by God Ministries Alliance & Seminary.

Salaam “eagerly shares his story with others,” his site says. “In speaking out against injustice, he conveys the importance of continuing one’s education —- whether formal or otherwise.

“He also touches on the effects of incarceration and the disenfranchisement of economically disadvantaged people and its devastating impact on both their families and the community at large,” the site says, noting he also advocates for drastic policy changes relating to prisons.

“He is a firm proponent of video surveillance in all police interactions with so-called suspects, banning solitary confinement for juveniles, and staunchly opposes capital punishment,” the site says.

Tickets for the March 7 event are free, though preregistration is required at app.arts-people.com/index.php?show=112280.

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