In order to spur legislative reforms in support of those affected by wrongful convictions in New York, an activist group called the Harlem Walkers will make an eight-day March for Justice for the Wrongfully Incarcerated. The group’s trek begins this Sunday in Harlem and stretches all the way to Albany, a 150-mile journey, and will be stopping in Westchester along the way.
Sunday evening, May 8, Westchester Peoples Action Coalition (WESPAC) will host a community dinner for the marchers at Irvington’s Eileen Fisher Institute. And on Monday, May 9, the Peekskill NAACP will hold an open public forum at the Kiley Center, where visitors will hear from Yusef Salaam, an exonerated member of the Central Park 5, and his mother, Sharonne Salaam, who together lead a social campaign called Justice4TheWrongfullyIncarcerated.
“Oftentimes, we hear of people wrongfully convicted, but we look the other way,” says Sharonne Salaam. “Justice is limited for these people and their families. [They] need assistance.”
For Peekskill NAACP President Martin McDonald, the March provides a platform to engage the county in the core concerns of activism. Or as he puts it, “Our role as advocates for social justice allows us to address two very important areas here, that being civic engagement and criminal justice. We are honored to be able to host the marchers.”
Jeffrey Deskovic, who spent 16 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted at 17 years old for raping and strangling a Peekskill High School classmate, will also speak at the Kiley Center. Pointing to the more than 1,700 people nationally who’ve been exonerated after initial conviction, he hopes to communicate the message that, “Wrongful conviction can happen to anybody.”
More than 90 participants have registered thus far, and the March will take them through the Bronx and Yonkers, into Tarrytown, across the Hudson River via Route 9A, and eventually along Route 9W to Catskill before descending on Albany, where they hope to speak with state lawmakers in the Capitol Building. Their demands include monetary compensation for lost wages, legal fees, medical expenses, and job-skills programs.
“Perhaps most the most important thing the people of Westchester can do would be to encourage a dialogue about this issue in schools, houses of worship, and on social media,” advises Martin McDonald, adding, “It’s easy to join a cause, it’s another thing to do the work.”
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