Guantanamo Bay prison could function near the courts in New York. Legal and penitentiary austerity is imposed on U.S. citizens under the institutional protection preached by freedom. Sometimes police cars, lower courts and prison cells are places where rights, logic and compassion do not apply.
For Kalief Browder, it all started when he was identified from a police car by a man who accused him of stealing his backpack. He was 16 years old, walking at night with friends after attending a party in the Bronx. They did not have weapons, money or stolen objects on them. They were only a group of young black men recalling the best songs from the party. One of the police officers decided that since the mugging had occurred two weeks previously it was best to take Kalief to the police station for further investigation. Kalief went into a cell thinking that he was going to be there for a couple of hours while the police investigated, but he was locked up for 33 months in a cell in New York’s Rikers Island. Kalief was placed in solitary confinement for 800 days like a dangerous criminal; furthermore the jail’s videos show that he was subjected to beatings, abuse and torture, in the form of starvation because he, a minor, refused to admit guilt — the only option given to him by the prosecutor with the threat of a 15-year prison term if found guilty. At the end of it all there was no trial, only a three year nightmare for a minor who came out a man suffering from paranoia and depression, which eventually led to his suicide not long ago.
New York is an exception in the American penal system by prosecuting 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Every year around 30,000 young people go through the justice system and, of course, 70 percent are black and Hispanic. For these young people, jail time is a guarantee while they await trial or even while the decision that there isn’t enough evidence for a trial is made, as in the case of Kalief Browder. The trial was postponed five times by prosecutors while the accused pleaded not guilty.
For many this is a more significant case than that of Michael Brown, who was murdered in Ferguson August of last year. This was not about a difficult decision taken by a man in a matter of seconds, but of a pattern supported by the police and judges in the American judicial system. We can see that in this case the willful misconduct of a government against an underage citizen is evident.
The New Yorker magazine, rapper Jay-Z and a Republican presidential candidate took interest in Kalief Browder’s case and made it visible. Otherwise, the wake at his home in the Bronx would have been one more unnoticed gathering of black families in New York. We are tired of watching movies, animations and reports about the abuse of young people in totalitarian regimes. Once in a while, Americans report on their own gruesomeness even if it’s with less advertising and fewer weeks in theaters.