At every step, Kalief Browder's story has been one of a tremendous miscarriage of justice.
Browder was 16 years old when he was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack. Allegedly stealing a backpack. No trial was ever held, and no conviction was ever made.
Even if a conviction had been made, he should have been let off with a fine and at most, a short jail sentence, for such a small misdemeanor crime. He should have been shown leniency for being only 16 years old.
It gets worse.
Browder was incarcerated at Rikers Island, which has been notorious for its corruption and abuse. The New York Times reports that there is a “pervasive climate of fear,” and “deep-seated culture of violence” against inmates at Rikers that has culminated in 1057 injuries among under-age males in 2013 alone.
At Rikers, officers go under-disciplined, if at all, for their flagrant abuses of power, their needless use of force. In 2012, one inmate was beaten by two guards for allegedly “snitching” on another case of brutality they had carried out. Injured inmates are pressured to go without medical care, most likely so as to draw less attention to the guards’ misconduct.
Browder did not escape unscathed. Surveillance shows the brutality he faced at the hands of fellow in-mates unmonitored by prison guards, and then even more so at the hands of the prison guards themselves. He endured two years in solitary confinement.
Browder’s attorney, Paul Prestia, detailed the trauma that was inflicted upon Browder:
“ hundreds and hundreds of nights in solitary confinement, where there were mice crawling up his sheets in that little cell…being starved, and not being taken to the shower for two weeks at a time … the pain and sadness that he had to deal with every day”
Browder attempted suicide at least six times during solitary confinement, and once again six months after he was released. He was hospitalized three times at the psychiatric ward at St. Barnabas Hospital, and when last Prestia saw him, he appeared to be doing well.
He wasn’t. On May 6th, he finally killed himself. We can only hope that he’s now found the peace that his nation couldn’t give him.
We speak a great deal about the perversions of justice that go on abroad, but, as Prestia notes,
"[Browder] didn’t get tortured in some prison camp in another country. It was right here!”