Jay-Z's documentary about Kalief Browder was released to Netflix recently, and it is incredible. It's monumental even. Finally, someone is sharing the heartbreaking story that tells so perfectly how broken our justice system truly is. But I realize, there are a lot of people who probably don't even know who Kalief Browder is, let alone why this is so important.
Kalief Browder was a teenager from the Bronx who was arrested in the spring of 2010 at the ripe age of sixteen for a robbery he did not commit. There was little to no evidence to prove he had done it, but because he was arrested in New York, he was sentenced to spend the time until his trial at Riker's Island.
You probably know about Riker's from any New York City-based cop shows, especially Law and Order: SVU. However, what you probably don't know about Riker's is that it has been demonstrated to be one of the most violent prisons in the country.
Reports have shown that of the approximately 7,500 prisoners detained at Riker's, around 80% of them haven't been found innocent OR guilty of the charges pending against them. This is especially important because Kalief Browder spent THREE YEARS in Riker's Island at the age of SIXTEEN.
In those three years, he did not see a trial. He was not given the right to a fair and speedy trial. Instead, he was beaten. Not just by other prisoners. By officers. Those officers beat him, starved him and generally tortured him. This has been caught on video and surveillance tapes, which have been published.
"What about posting bond?" You ask, outraged that a 16-year-old was put into an adult prison for a robbery he clearly didn't commit.
He couldn't come up with the $10,000 for bail.
Three years later, after the case was bounced around and continuously delayed, Kalief Browder was released from prison after his case was dismissed. He spent two of those years in solitary confinement, all for a crime he did not commit. A crime he told police, corrections officers, anyone who would listen, that he did not commit.
In 2015, Kalief Browder committed suicide with an air conditioning cord after suffering from depression and PTSD from his three-year stint in Riker's.
That's why this is so important. It is so important that his story is told because our justice system is broken. It is broken if someone cannot afford to post bail and they are then forced to spend time in prison when they have not been convicted of anything. It is broken if someone can spend three years in that prison awaiting trial. What is the point of having the right to a fair and speedy trial when you can't even demonstrate that right?
How we let a sixteen-year-old rot in the most violent prison in the United States for a crime he didn't commit is beyond me. But the real tragedy here is that despite all that and despite all the support he was given after his release, he still felt that his only solution was to take his own life.
Say his name. Kalief Browder is only one of the many victims of our broken justice system. Say. His. Name.