Kalief Browder is a 20 year old man from the Bronx. He has a sister and a young nephew, and is currently trying to find a job.
When Kalief was sixteen, a man he didn't know stopped him on the street and told a nearby police officer, "That man robbed my house." With no further proceedings, Kalief was taken to the New York City jail on Rikers Island, with bail posted at $10,000. His family was unable to pay this amount. He was offered the chance to exchange a guilty plea for a shorter sentence than the normal result of a guilty verdict, but he refused. On May 30, 2013, more than three years after a stranger's request had put him in jail, Kalief was released without explanation.
Kalief Browder was never convicted of any crime.
He claims to have spent more than 400 days in solitary confinement and to have undergone serious mistreatment at the hands of both guards and inmates of the notorious prison. He was a sixteen year old high school sophomore when he was jailed; he's now a 20 year old with no high school diploma and a history of jail time. He was in jail for his sister's wedding and the birth of her son. In short, the effects on Kalief's life have been devastating, probably irreparable. His story is making the rounds of the Internet now, because he's suing the City of New York for $20 million.
I first read about this case on Alternet, a site that's good at bringing little-known outrages to light but not always so good at maintaining evenhanded accuracy. What I was reading, I thought, sounded unbelievable; this is the land of "speedy trial," isn't it? And maybe there was some background I didn't know--was he really innocent? was there some justified obstacle to the completion of the trial? So I read a bit more, trying to find sources with at least a less blatant agenda. Because it's a recent piece of news, there wasn't much, but among the extant articles, there seemed to be a consensus: some guy pointed at a kid and said, "Hey, take him to jail, okay?" And that's what happened. Now, even if Kalief was high, drunk, or running away from the scene of some other crime, there's no justification for that. It can't be tolerated. Those at fault should never work in the justice system or in law enforcement again, both as a consequence of their incompetence and as protection for other innocent citizens.
If I discover some truly vital piece of information that turns this case from a seeming instance of Orwellian doom come upon us, to just another sue-happy American trying to spin his story for the most cash possible, you can be sure I'll edit this writeup accordingly. Honestly, between those two options, I'd prefer the latter. But when I look at photos of Kalief Browder's face, and read his claims in his own words, I have to say I believe him. He has the ring of truth, and that terrifies me.