The NYPD Pulled Over Yusef Salaam. Now Both Are Under Fire.


Yusef Salaam, the newly elected New York City Council member who was wrongfully convicted in 1990 as a member of the Central Park Five, was in Harlem on Friday night, driving downtown to dinner with his wife and four of his children, when the flashing lights of a police car appeared behind him.

He pulled over. An officer walked toward his car, asking him to roll down the tinted windows. When the officer reached the driver’s side, Mr. Salaam identified himself as a councilman. The officer asked Mr. Salaam if he was working; Mr. Salaam replied that he was and asked why he had been stopped.

The officer did not answer but sent Mr. Salaam on his way. “Take care, sir,” the officer said.

The stop soon prompted outrage, with Mr. Salaam, who represents Harlem and was recently named chair of the Council’s public safety committee, and his allies saying that it demonstrated the importance of police transparency when stopping New Yorkers. Other elected officials viewed it as an example of a City Council member’s invoking his position to try to get out of a ticket.

The police quickly released body camera footage of the stop, as well as a statement that said Mr. Salaam had been stopped because his car had illegally tinted windows. The statement also noted that the car had a Georgia license plate. Mayor Eric Adams defended the stop as “a picture-perfect example” of a professional and courteous police response.

But Mr. Salaam, who was one of five Black and Latino teenagers convicted in the 1989 rape of a jogger in Central Park and exonerated decades later, said on Sunday in his first interview since the stop that the officer had not been appropriately transparent because he failed to give a reason for the stop. Officers are not required to give a reason, but Mr. Salaam said the police should have done so voluntarily.

“We know that the danger is there every single time a Black man in particular gets behind the wheel of a car,” Mr. Salaam said.

Neither the identity nor the race of the officer was disclosed.

The stop came at a time when tensions have escalated between Mr. Adams and the City Council. Council members, including Mr. Salaam, are preparing to override on Tuesday the mayor’s veto of a bill that seeks to document what legislators believe are discriminatory stops by the police.

After the encounter, Mr. Salaam said he would not participate in a ride-along with officers on Saturday night, which the mayor had invited him to join — part of the Adams administration’s efforts to argue that the bill would be burdensome to the police and harm public safety.

“What is sad is taking an incident where someone cuts you a break, does right by you, and then misrepresenting the truth to get them in trouble,” he said.

The Police Benevolent Association, the police officers’ union, also lashed out at Mr. Salaam, with its president, Patrick Hendry, saying in a statement on X that “this Council member and every other elected official who baselessly smeared our police officers owe them an apology.”

Traffic stops can often turn deadly, and Black drivers are overrepresented among those killed during stops. Several cities have moved to stop officers from pulling people over for minor violations, including tinted windows and broken taillights. Black and Latino drivers in New York City are disproportionately stopped and searched by the police.

In an interview, Mr. Salaam denied having used his title to try to avoid a ticket. He said that he was in the process of having the Georgia registration on his vehicle switched to New York. Mr. Salaam, who moved back to New York in December 2022, still owns a home in Georgia and has family there.

He said he had been unaware that his tinted windows, which are legal in Georgia, were illegal in New York City, adding that if he had received a ticket or a warning, he would have moved to have them changed.

“Now I know why I was stopped,” Mr. Salaam said, “and now I can correct the problem so that I am not stopped in the future.”

When he was stopped, Mr. Salaam said, he was on a phone call with colleagues from the City Council on speakerphone, including Sandy Nurse, who represents Bushwick and other areas of north Brooklyn. She said she heard Mr. Salaam ask why he was being stopped, and they discussed it after. Given that there was no explanation by the officer, she said, she assumed Mr. Salaam had been stopped for “driving while Black.”

Ms. Nurse said that she understood why Mr. Salaam identified himself as a council member, since traffic stops can escalate into violence.

“He’s a dark-skinned Black man who went through a very traumatic thing as a child,” she said. “I think it would only make sense for him to identify himself, as someone who has lived his experience, to an officer — why wouldn’t he make that clear?”

Jordan Wright, Mr. Salaam’s chief of staff, and Mandela Jones, the deputy chief of staff for communications for Adrienne Adams, the speaker of the City Council, were also both on the call and said they heard Mr. Salaam ask why he had been pulled over.

On Tuesday, the City Council is expected to override Mr. Adams’s veto of two bills approved by the Council in December: one that would require police officers to log basic information about investigative stops of members of the public, including their race, and one that would end solitary confinement in city jails. The bill would not apply to stops like the one Mr. Salaam experienced; all traffic stops are already required to be documented.

Supporters of the stops bill say it is necessary because they believe the police are underreporting and misrepresenting stops of members of the public.

Controversy around this practice goes back to soaring use of stop-and-frisk under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. In 2013, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled that the police were using stop-and-frisk tactics to racially profile Black and Latino men. The use of stop-and-frisk declined under Mayor Bill de Blasio, but it has begun to rise again under Mr. Adams, and in June, a federal monitor found that the Police Department was engaging in unlawful policing.

The battle over the bills has been unusually tense. Mr. Adams, a Democrat entering his third year in office, has urged legislators to support his veto. His office released a statement saying that the bill would undermine his progress on tackling crime and “make our city less safe.”

Ms. Adams, the Council speaker, released her own fiery statement on Friday announcing the veto override vote, arguing that the mayor and his team had “recklessly misled the public” in their criticism of the bills.

“The Council has no interest in prolonging a conversation that has been made unnecessarily toxic by the spreading of fear and misinformation,” she said.



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