ITHACA, NY (WSKG) – Sage Chapel on the campus of Cornell University was packed Monday night as people gathered to hear Yusef Salaam.
Salaam is one of the Exonerated 5; also called the Central Park 5. They were five teenaged boys wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for the brutal assault and rape of a female jogger in Central Park in 1989.
After learning about the case, and then hearing Salaam speak about his experiences in prison, Cornell Freshman Paul Lewis III said he now thinks differently about incarcerated people.
“It did change how I look at people because they’re not, like, all criminals,” he said. “There are more of, like, people who maybe, like, just had a bad luck…”
Salaam said effective criminal justice reform depends on having good prosecutors and police officers because change has to happen from both inside and outside of the system.
“I have people in my family who are police officers and they say the same thing,” said the freshman from Baltimore.
Cornell Junior Leah Ham said many of her peers see so much injustice and feel helpless in changing it. However, after hearing Salaam, Ham is more hopeful.
“It was different than the usual talks about ‘hope’ because it was specific to America,” said the 20-year-old from Long Island. “Specific to, like, African Americans. And, yeah, specific to the current times.”
Salaam and the four others convicted were eventually fully exonerated.