Harlem City Council Member Yusef Salaam abruptly pulled out of his planned participation in a police ride-along Saturday night, at Mayor Eric Adams’ invitation, after he says police stopped him Friday and refused to explain why.
The episode occurred just days before Salaam and the City Council are scheduled to take a vote to override Mayor Adams’ veto of the How Many Stops Act, legislation that would require NYPD officers to document certain interactions with the public — something proponents see as essential to accountability and ending racial profiling, and the mayor sees as a bureaucratic stranglehold on cops.
Police confirmed the stop and released bodycam video of the incident. The NYPD said the vehicle Salaam driving had out-of-town paper plates and tinted windows, violations which contributed to the stop — though no summonses were issued.
Salaam, a progressive elected official who won the 9th District seat last year, was one of the “Exonerated Five,” previously known as the “Central Park Five,” a group of youths wrongfully accused and convicted of raping a jogger in 1989. After having his name cleared and being freed from prison, Salaam went on to become an advocate for criminal justice reform, serving on the board of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit working to overturn wrongful convictions across America.
But on Friday night, the lawmaker says he was riding along with his family through Harlem when he was suddenly pulled over by officers in the 28th Precinct.
“I introduced myself as Councilman Yusef Salaam, and subsequently asked the officer why I was pulled over,” Salaam said in a Jan. 27 statement. “Instead of answering my question, the officer stated, ‘We’re done here,’ and proceeded to walk away.”
Ironically, the stop happened, according to a Politico reporter, while Salaam was on a call with other City Council members and the New York Civil Liberties Union regarding police stops.
The brief encounter, Salaam indicated, served as an example of the type of encounters the NYPD would be required to document if the How Many Stops Act becomes law. Currently, there is no mechanism requiring any officer to provide details about such encounters, which proponents of the bill say helps racial profiling to go unabated.
“The fact that the officer did not provide a rationale for the stop,” Salaam wrote, “calls into question how the NYPD justifies its stops of New Yorkers and highlights the need for greater transparency to ensure they are constitutional. This experience only amplified the importance of transparency for all police investigative stops, because the lack of transparency allows racial profiling and unconstitutional stops of all types to occur and often go unreported.”
Days after vetoing the How Many Stops Act, Mayor Adams invited all City Council members to go on a ride-along with NYPD officers to see how they interact with the public, and how documenting those interactions would impact their job. Salaam was one of nearly a dozen Council members to initially agree to participate in the ride-along, scheduled for Saturday night in Harlem.
But Friday night’s encounter, “coupled with the lack of logistical details provided by” the mayor’s office about the ride-along, led Salaam to withdraw from Saturday’s event. He noted that he would begin to “organically develop constructive relationships with all of the precincts” in his Council district.
And Salaam seemed to indicate he would vote to override the mayor’s veto at the Council’s scheduled vote on Tuesday.
“Many of us in the Council know what it’s like to feel vulnerable and powerless when stopped by an officer, because we have personally experienced triggering interactions like I had last night,” the lawmaker said. “It is our duty as public servants to collect the data necessary to determine the pervasiveness of these stops, and solutions to build the trust necessary to make our neighborhoods safer.”
Reached for comment, the mayor’s office referred amNewYork Metro to a statement from the NYPD, which confirmed the details of the Salaam stop while stating the officer followed proper procedure and had conducted their duty “professionally and respectfully.”
The NYPD, however, indicated that the officer had likely cause to pull Salaam over for a potential traffic violation, and nothing involving an investigation. The entire episode was caught on the officer’s body cam, “and following proper procedure, all vehicle stops are already properly documented with a vehicle report, as was done here.”
The Mayor’s office also offered this statement from Mayor Adams: “We appreciate Councilmember Salaam, the new Public Safety chair of the City Council, for bringing this stop to our attention. We also appreciate and commend the NYPD for following all proper police procedures and being respectful during last night’s interaction, as the video and vehicle stop report show. The village of Harlem deserves nothing less, and we are remain excited to work with Councilmember Salaam.”
Updated on Jan. 27 at 5:12 p.m.