Hell on Earth

Adolescent commits suicide after three years at Rikers Island

Kalief Browder was falsely accused of stealing a backpack one night while walking home from a party in Bronx, New York. For the crime, he spent 3 years in Rikers Island

Kalief Browder was falsely accused of stealing a backpack one night while walking home from a party in Bronx, New York. For the crime, he spent 3 years in Rikers Island

Kalief Browder describes Rikers Island, New York City’s largest and main jail complex, as “hell on earth.”

Walking home from a party in the Bronx, the New York Police Department (NYPD) arrested 16-year-old Browder for allegedly stealing a backpack, and sent him to Rikers Island on May 16, 2010.

At the time of arrest, Browder thought he’d go home after being searched, frisked, arrested, and questioned.

Seventeen hours after his arrest, Browder was sent to the 48th Police Precinct Station in the Bronx where his bail was set for $3,000 with a bond of $900.

Since Browder’s family was unable to afford the bond,  Browder was incarcerated in Rikers Island for over 1,000 days. “800 of those days were in solitary confinement,” the documentary stated.

Rikers Island entrance sign

Kalief claimed he was wrongfully arrested, “denied a speedy trial by the Bronx District Attorney and was beaten, starved and tortured at Rikers Island.”

After being released from prison, Browder’s brother claimed eleven different attorneys told Kalief he had no plausible case.

“I lost my childhood,” Browder said in a documentary produced by rapper Shawn “Jay Z” Carter. Carter views Browder as a prophet, someone who worked to change the community.

“I believe all prophets come in many shapes and forms,” Carter said. “Sometimes our prophets come in young undeveloped energy that will teach all us grownups how to love better and have more compassion.”

Jay Z engaged in a panel discussion upon release of the first episode of his 6 part documentary.

Carter’s documentary depicts Browder’s perspective of his experience at Rikers Island.

Multiple police reports produced by the NYPD report 2 different days as the date of the crime.

Some reports state May 2, 2010 and others report May 8.

Additionally, there were no follow ups on the day of the arrest. Browder’s home was never searched for stolen property, nor was the scene of the crime investigated, according to the documentary.

Decatur Police Officer Richard Phillips is Decatur’s school resource officer.

Prior to arresting a citizen, he states that the officer needs to officially determine if a crime was actually committed through preliminary questions or an investigation company. Browder’s arrest was accompanied with a search and frisk.

At this time search and frisk were all over the place and they were actually violating people’s rights,” Philips said.

Charlene Alves taught Browder high school history and claims “stop and frisk” were everyday occurrences.

“You’re not going to boot camp or young people’s jail,” Officer Richard Phillips said. “You’re not going to [a Regional Youth Development Center]. You’re not going to Dekalb County jail either. It’s a different place that has a gang culture and gang violence.”Being New York’s largest jail complex located on the East River between the Bronx and Queens, NY, Rikers Island is very difficult to escape simply because it’s surrounded by water.
“Children were always being profiled,” Alves said. “Sometimes I would [ask] ‘Who got stopped today?’ Just as part of the [history] course.”

Throughout Browder’s experience in Rikers Island, he stood confident in his plead. He knew if he confessed to being guilty, he could go home.

He chose to fight.

“You’re not going to make me say I did something just so I can go home,” Browder said. “If I got to stay in here just to prove that I’m innocent then so be it.”

Philips doesn’t have a definitive recommendation for juveniles like Browder, but he suggests to know what basic rights every citizen has and not to give them away.

“Personally, if I’m not being detained or arrested then I’m walking home,” Phillips said. “If I am, then I need to call someone to represent me.”

Philips worked at a military confinement facility and states solitary confinement was used as a suicide watch the first 72 hours of coming into the facility.

“[Inmates] had to be monitored every 15 minutes because it’s like their acclimation to a new environment, coming from a free world to being behind bars.”

President Obama banned solitary confinement for juvenile offenders in 2016 and cited Browder, who ended up committing suicide at age 22.

“Today, [solitary confinement] is increasingly overused on people like Kalief, with heartbreaking results — which is why my administration is taking steps to address this problem,” Obama wrote.
The first episode of Carter’s six part miniseries titled Time: The Kalief Browder Story aired on March 1, 2017 on Spike.

Contact the writer at [email protected]