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[New York News\Sharonne Salaam\ Justice 4 Wrongly Incarcerated]
Sharonne Salaam: "We would like the people to know...they have the power to assist in helping this bill to pass. Because so many of our people in our community face this issue. And one of the things they can do is call their representative and tell them to pass this bill immediately.”
Photo: Facebook

Criminal justice advocate Sharonne Salaam, mother of Dr. Yusef Salaam who was framed in Central Park Five case.

Last week, criminal justice advocates in New York City held a City Hall press conference announcing a package of criminal justice reform initiatives they are hoping to pass into law.

The criminal justice proposals were unveiled by legal organizations like the Innocence Project, the Legal Aid Society and the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and by elected officials and family members of the framed Central Park Five. These bills are aimed at correcting inherent racial injustice within America’s criminal justice system.

At last week’s press conference, Dr. Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise released a joint statement saying “Nearly 30 years ago, we were imprisoned for a brutal crime we did not commit, and collectively spent the better part of five decades behind bars for it.”

For much of that time Dr. Salaam’s mother, Sharonne Salaam, has fought and freed her son—and has actively been advocating for others who have been unjustly imprisoned. Recently, the Black Star News interviewed Ms. Salaam, founder of the group “Justice 4 The Wrongfully Incarcerated,” about her activism, which includes two current legislative bills (A3978A and S2074A) which she is now championing.

The Black Star News first asked Ms. Salaam to talk about how the unjust arrest and conviction of her son evolved into her advocacy for those who have been wrongfully incarcerated.

What happened was we started doing this work on behalf of those kids when they were in the prisons, up in the juvenile facilities, and in the adult facilities. So, when we started, we had gotten an invitation from Yusef, my son, to participate in doing some work on behalf of those people who were incarcerated. Not just anybody. But those who were incarcerated who were being wronged. Like, we found that there were children who were locked in solitary for months at a time. And other different issues that was happening with the young people.

And Father Lucas, [Lawrence Lucas] and I were there on this particular occasion and there were a lot of kids who were brought up on charges for various things that they had done, not done, and as a result of that we started doing a lot of this work. We put out a flyer saying, ‘if your kids are in trouble,’ actually we started it under ‘People United for Children’. The flyer said, ‘if your kids are in trouble call us,’ or if you need some help. And a lot of families started coming to us, seeking assistance with what was happening with their children, who were in trouble.

And we found that there were tremendous amounts of these children who were also in foster care. And that foster care was one of the major pipelines to the juvenile justice system, and to the prison system as well, because if you go into the adult facilities you find that a lot of those adults also have had times where they have spent it in foster care. Its like a foster care training ground for jail. And we started working on behalf of them, bringing programs into the facilities, taking food into the facilities and doing advocacy in the facilities as well for parents who had children who were incarcerated who were not able to do their own advocacy. Let’s say sometimes they were in other states and they reached out to groups that were trying to help them in the state where the child was actually located. We did that and other things with children.

And now what has come, in terms of the bill, once Yusef and the other boys were exonerated of these crimes, back in 2002, there was no avenue for their speedy compensation, if you understand what I’m saying? Like that day when they were convicted, they put the cuffs on them, and took them to jail that day. That was speedy. There was no compensation, or anything, for people who fall into this category to be compensated without going through this arduous court system. Now, it took from 2002 to 2013, or, 2014, for those young people to receive any compensation for what had been done to them. That should not be. If people have been wronged there should be an automatic way that they can become whole from the injustice that has been done to them. So, this is just one of many things that we are trying to push for. Because, we also would like situations where people have not only been wronged, but where people have been found guilty of various things and have not been able to receive the justice that they need to get these things righted. If you understand what I’m saying?”

The Black Star News asked about the status of Assembly Bill A3978A, sponsored by Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry; and its companion Senate Bill S2074A, sponsored by Senator Brian Benjamin—which are a result of Ms. Salaam’s advocacy.

Those bills have not passed. We are trying to help get them passed. That’s why we need you all [media] to help us publicize these bills and to help us to make them known that we can push for their passing. Those groups of bills are waiting to be passed. We have Aubry is working the bill in the Assembly, and we have Brian Benjamin, from our Harlem community, working it in the Senate. It the same bill.”

The Black Star News inquired about the benefits that would come from the bill.

Well, one of the main benefits is that the compensation portion of the bill would be more speedy. There would be a way for people to be notified, in terms of how to proceed after they come out of jail, and have this adjudication of their crimes. There would be a mechanism in place that would assist them in terms of moving forward. Then there would be the financial minimum would be in place. There would also be social service benefits, housing benefits, education benefits, and job benefits. And in some of those cases, you know how you take the Civil Service exam, just as an example, and if lets say you are a policeman, whatever you are, from the military—you get a bump up. We want these people to get a bump up, in terms of what has happened to them. If they need mental health help, they would be able to receive that as well.”

The Black Star News asked Ms. Salaam whether Governor Andrew Cuomo has given any indication whether he would support this legislation.

The Governor I haven’t heard him say he would or would not support this bill. However, the Governor claims that he is into prison reform and this would be a big reform, in terms of making people whole. You see, because right now there is no reform, in terms of penalizing those people who do these egregious acts that have so many incarcerated people who are innocent who are jail. You know it’s a tremendous number of them. They really don’t want to give the correct number out but there are a tremendous number of them that are in jail for crimes they have not committed. Many of those people are being killed because they are on death row for crimes they have not committed. Its just an unfair system and we are trying to fair it up, in this small way.”

The Black Star News next asked about the number of legislators who have showed support for this bill.

“There are so many I can’t remember them all. Thirty-some number of them have signed on. So, it’s a large number of them who have signed on in support of this action."

The Black Star News then asked about the other criminal justice reform measures that were announced at last week’s City Hall press conference where Ms. Salaam was present along with her son, Yusef, Kevin Richardson and Korey Wise.

“We were at City Hall talking about these issues in relation to these bills of what can and needs to be done. Representatives of each one of those initiatives, bills, were present there as part of this press conference to educate people on these bills. We are very hopeful that they all will pass. But, you know, sometimes it takes years for things to move forward. Even though it would be the right thing to do. So, everyone was there speaking on the various bills and trying to get things to move in a positive way.

I was there as well, my daughter was there, there were a lot of people from Justice 4 the Wrongfully Incarcerated that were present to talk about our bill. Senator Benjamin was also present. A lot of the representatives that sponsored the various bills were present also and they talked about the bills, trying to explain it and make sure people understood what would happen with these types of bills. I know there was a, people sometimes wonder about the amount. We’re saying that there should be a minimum of a million dollars, per year, in relation to these bills. But, in New York state, that million dollars per year is the amount that is normal when they deal with these bills.”

The Black Star News finally asked Ms. Salaam if there was anything else she wanted readers to know.

“Well, one of the things we would like the people to know is they have the power to assist in helping this bill to pass. Because so many of our people in our community face this issue. And one of the things they can do is call their representative and tell them to pass this bill immediately.”

The Black Star News made inquiries regarding these bills, A3978A and S2074A. We were told the judiciary committees are currently reviewing them.

For more information on Ms. Sharonne Salaam, and her organization Justice 4 the Wrongfully Incarcerated logon to:

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