New York: Thursday, February 22, 2024
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Politics: Central Park Five Member Yusef Salaam’s Traffic Stunt Jeopardizes

POLITICS: Central Park Five member Yusef Salaam’s traffic stunt jeopardizes public safety

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Will New York let its long-professed collective guilt over the Central Park jogger case dictate public safety?

We’ll see if the City Council lets a perfectly proper police stop of onetime Central Park Five defendant Yusef Salaam, now a Harlem councilman, determine the future of policing. 

In 1989, Manhattan prosecutors charged Salaam, then 15, in that spring’s rape and near-killing of the Central Park jogger.

He spent nearly seven years in prison.

In 2002, after a killer rapist confessed to the crime, a judge vacated the five defendants’ convictions.

The de Blasio administration later paid the five a $41 million settlement. 

Last year, Salaam ran on his biography — and only that — to win a Harlem council seat.

Salaam hadn’t even lived in New York for six years and had no notion of running until Harlem Democrats recruited him.

With his advisers attuned to the polls — and aware Harlem voters aren’t “Defund the police” supporters — he ran as a moderate

Now he’s revealing his enduring anger at police.

He wasn’t yet a sitting councilman in December when the chamber voted to force police to make a detailed record of every engagement they initiate with the public — even if it’s just to ask a woman walking alone at night if she’s alright.

But by last week, maybe feeling left out, he wanted the world to know he supports the How Many Stops Act.

He said he would vote to override the mayor’s recent veto of the bill — his mind so made up that he’d rejected the mayor’s call for council members to ride along with police on patrol to get a feel for their job. 

Still, he wasn’t the center of attention. 

Saturday morning, he got the spotlight, releasing a bombshell statement: The night before, “while driving with my wife and children and listening in to a call with my Council colleagues on speakerphone, I was pulled over” in Harlem.

“I introduced myself as Councilman Yusef Salaam” and “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.” 

Salaam said this stop is reason to override the mayor: “The fact that the officer did not provide a rationale . . . highlights the need for greater transparency” to prevent “racial profiling.” 

He also said this purportedly “unconstitutional” stop is why he wouldn’t ride along with the police that night, apparently forgetting his earlier rejection of such a ride-along anyway.

Salaam seemed to think the police would cower and apologize.

Instead, they released their rationale for the stop — and the video.

Police stopped Salaam because his car’s windows are illegally tinted.

Dark tint is illegal because it’s dangerous.

Pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers can’t see whether the driver can see them — and police can’t see whether the driver is doing something dangerous, like texting.

(Nor can they see the driver’s race — meaning they’re not racially profiling.) 

And Salaam’s BMW has a Georgia plate (notwithstanding the councilman’s New York residency): Police saw an out-of-state driver unfamiliar with our state’s safe-driving laws. 

What wasn’t justified was the cop immediately walking away when Salaam IDed himself as an elected official.

Cops are used to this “Don’t you know who I am?” stance, and they know they’ll get in trouble if they ticket important folk.

If the council wants to fix something, this low-grade corruption is a good candidate.

But they won’t because it benefits them. 

Salaam wants to use his prominence — prominence entirely due to a nearly four-decade-old injustice — to saddle cops with more paperwork.

But he also wants cops to cease making traffic stops for illegal behavior — when traffic stops are already down. 

Last year, police made fewer than 690,000 traffic stops, far below 2019’s 986,000. 

Surprise: Traffic deaths are up.

Last year, New York had 258 traffic deaths, up from a near-record low 220 in 2019.

Pedestrians aren’t dying in greater numbers — street redesigns have helped — but motorists and passengers are.

Last year, 110 motor-vehicle occupants died, up from 68 in 2019. 

Who’s dying? Young men and their female passengers — like the donut-making Bronx driver this month who allegedly killed two passengers, including a 15-year-old girl. 

Without police traffic stops — yes, disproportionate stops of young men, who are the most reckless drivers — deaths will persist.

Salaam wants to embarrass the police into stopping no one — on foot or in cars. 

Let’s hope other council members, in considering this week’s override of the mayor, don’t fall for this stunt.

Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.

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