Yusef Salaam spent nearly seven years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit — one of the five Black and brown teenagers Donald Trump targeted after the 1989 assault of a Central Park jogger.
Decades later, after a Manhattan grand jury on Thursday indicted the former president on charges related to business fraud, Salaam needed just one word to describe the development.
Trump faces more than 30 counts in a case involving supposed hush-money payments to adult film actor Stormy Daniels, and he’s expected to appear in court on Tuesday.
This turn marks the first time in U.S. history that a current or former president has been charged with a crime.
Salaam, who earlier this year announced his candidacy for New York City Council, said on Twitter that Trump has never apologized for calling for the execution of the Exonerated Five.
The convictions against the group were vacated in 2002, and the filmmaker Ava DuVernay explored the case in her acclaimed 2019 Netflix series, When They See Us.
Salaam isn’t the only Black public figure weighing in on Trump’s indictment.
For years, the Rev. Al Sharpton and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters of California have been among the most vocal critics of the former president, insisting that he be held accountable for what he did before, during, and after his time in the White House. This week’s news offers hope that their demands might become a reality.
Here’s what people are saying about this long-overdue moment.
Raymond Santana, Exonerated Five
Santana spent five years in prison after he was wrongfully convicted in the Central Park jogger case. In an Instagram post that was both pithy and powerful, he shared an image of Trump’s 1989 ad calling for New York to “bring back” the death penalty and echoed Salaam’s sentiments:
“Never forget … because we never had a chance to.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton
Like Salaam and Santana, Sharpton, the founder and president of the National Action Network, a civil rights organization established in 1991 in the “spirit and tradition” of Martin Luther King Jr., leaned into the notion of karmic comeuppance:
“It’s not lost on those of us who were there in 1989 that Donald Trump will likely walk into the same courthouse where the Exonerated 5 were falsely convicted for a crime they did not commit. Let’s not forget that it was Donald Trump who took out full-page ads calling for these five Black and brown young men to get the death penalty. This is the same man who’s now calling for violence when he has to go through the criminal justice system. The same man will have to stand up in a courtroom and see firsthand what the criminal justice system is like. All I can say is, what goes around comes around.”
Sherrilyn Ifill, former president and director-counsel, NAACP Legal Defense Fund
For weeks, Ifill has been urging observers to “keep the context” of this major event in mind:
“They prosecuted one Mayor of Baltimore for embezzling $500 worth of gift cards; another for scamming sales of her children’s book. The idea that illegally writing off your hush-money payment for a sexual indiscretion while running for president is somehow “too small to indict” is bunk.”
Rashad Robinson, racial justice advocate
The president of Color of Change, one of the country’s leading civil rights organizations, Robinson lauded the efforts of Alvin Bragg — Manhattan’s first Black district attorney and the person conducting the investigation into the supposed hush-money scheme:
“In this historic moment, Color Of Change applauds New York County District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who refused to let corporate influence, racist right-wing attacks, and threats of violence interfere with holding the former president accountable. This is the kind of political courage we need from every district attorney in the country.
This indictment provides a glimpse into what accountability of the rich and powerful can look like, and the role that progressive prosecutors can play. For weeks, Trump and his enablers in government and media tried to undermine this important legal process with lies and racist dog whistles. They then went a step further launching racist and anti-Semitic attacks aimed at fueling violence and attempted to stop the justice system from moving forward. Yet, this indictment is a step in the right direction toward ensuring that no one should be above the law, no matter how much money, power or access they have.
Color Of Change is proud to support progressive district attorneys like DA Bragg who are committed to reforming the criminal legal system while demanding accountability from the rich and powerful. We will continue to support these leaders, who are enacting sensible reforms, stopping targeted attacks on people of color, holding those in power accountable, and striving to ensure justice for all.”
U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley
Consistently corrupt & immoral.
And now, indicted in a court of law.”
Derrick Johnson, NAACP president and CEO
Johnson reflected on what Trump’s indictment might reveal about the criminal legal system’s ability to hold powerful people accountable:
“Restoring faith in the justice system is the priority as we recover from years of watching as apparently illegal actions went unaddressed. While the specific charges remain unknown, it’s clear that no matter how much money and power one may attain — they are not absolved of their responsibilities. Today’s actions remind Americans that no person is above the law. Today is the beginning of the law catching up to Donald Trump. We intend to continue pursuing justice in our case that will hold him accountable for his actions that led to January 6th as well.”
Hakeem Jeffries, U.S. House minority leader
The first Black lawmaker to lead a political party in Congress, Jeffries emphasized a simple message: No one ought to be exempt from the consequences of their actions.
“The preeminence of the rule of law is central to the integrity of our democracy.
It must be applied equally without fear or favor.
The indictment of a former President is a serious moment for the nation.
A jury of Donald Trump’s peers will now determine his legal fate.”
U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters
The California Democrat and unapologetic Trump critic has never held her tongue about what she thinks about the former president, and reminded everyone on Thursday that she saw all of this coming:
“SO Trump finally got indicted! I predicted he would and I predicted that Stormy Daniels would get him! Sometimes justice works!”
While Trump was in the White House, Waters was among the most vocal politicians calling for him to be impeached and removed from office.
In a 2019 speech after Trump was impeached the first time, she said, “To quote the late Maya Angelou, when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. This day was not inevitable, but it was predictable because this president has shown himself time and time again to believe that he is above the law, and he has no respect for our Constitution or democracy.”
Trump was acquitted in 2019 and was impeached and acquitted again in 2021.