Imagine being jailed in one of America’s toughest prisons over a false accusation. This was the reality of Kalief Browder, who was 16 when he was arrested and sent to Rikers Island for three years with much of that time in solitary confinement.
On May 15, 2010, Browder and a friend were walking home from a party that night in the Bronx. Cops who were working off a tip cornered the pair, accusing Browder of stealing a backpack earlier that night. When Browder denied the claim, he says cops went back to the alleged victim in the squad car who then changed the story to say the robbery happened two weeks prior.
Browder was a target of police concern just eight months before, when he allegedly stole a delivery truck and crashed it into a parked car. He claimed in a piece for the New Yorker that he simply watched the crime go down, but pleaded guilty out of fear. This had an impact on his current arrest as he was on probation so the judge ordered him held for processing as the case moved through the courts. His friend was sent to go home.
A judge set a bail for $3,000, but it was out of reach for the family. Ultimately, Browder was remanded and sent to Rikers Island’s juvenile center. In his three years at the jail, he spent around two years of the time in solitary confinement. Maintaining his innocence, Browder said he was beaten, starved, and much more. He has been free now for 16 months, only after the case was dismissed. He was given several chances to make a deal if he admitted guilt, but he staunchly refused.
Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now! reported on Browder’s case on the talk program with New Yorker reporter Jennifer Gonnerman, who wrote about the ordeal, and attorney Paul Pestia, who is suing the City of New York, the New York City Police Department, the Bronx District Attorney, and the Department of Corrections on his client’s behalf.
Watch the Democracy Now! clip below.