Criminal Justice System: Lessons from “The Kalief Browder Story”
In this paper, I will summarize the documentary “The Kalief Browder Story,” which judges the community justice aspects within New York City. Kalief Browder was a 16-year-old who was accused of stealing a backpack. This high school student was imprisoned for three years, two of them in solitary confinement on Rikers Island, without being convicted of a crime. Kalief, throughout the process, refused to take a plea deal because he wanted to go to trial to prove his innocence. When you plead guilty, you lose the civil and constitutional rights that you had as a non-convicted felon, and you never get it back.
The Unjust Imprisonment of Kalief Browder
Kalief Browder was a 16-year-old boy who was wrongfully convicted in the city of New York in 2010. The officer who arrested Kalief was following up on a robbery that was reported over the weekend. The suspect was described as an African-American man. Kalief, however, was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Kalief was then sent to Riker’s island correctional facility, where he would await his conviction. Rikers Island, as many know, has a reputation for violence, abuse, and neglect of all inmates.
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Kalief Browder, who was asked to plead guilty numerous times by his public defendant, refused to do so because he was an innocent man, and he believed the system would defend him. These young spend three years in the system, two out of the three years in solitary confinement. He was jumped by city gangs and mistreated, beaten, and starved by the facility’s correctional officers. Months after months, his trial was pushed back because the court was not ready.
The police didn’t do the proper investigation of this case from the moment he got arrested. This story classified all the issues of racism, corruption, and a criminal justice system that is simply not working. Browder was punished for implementing his constitutional right to a trial; he also was denied the right to a speedy trial because prosecutors repeatedly asked for postponements due to not having proper documentation or a witness. Yet no one advocated for his release during years of delay. His bail was set at $3,000, higher than his mother, or almost any family in the South Bronx, could afford.
I felt that there was so much that could’ve been done to prevent this young man from spending three years of his life in prison. “African Americans are only 13% of the American population, but a majority of innocent defendants are wrongfully convicted of crimes and later exonerated” (Gross, 2017). Knowing that the officer that night didn’t care what they had to say makes me worry about our society. Being that I myself am from the Bronx, breaks my heart to see what the NYPD is doing, and it brings fear for my family that still lives there. We are a community and should look after each other, not hurt one another.
Kalief Browder wanted to make sure that his story was heard and hoped that he was going to make a difference in the criminal justice system. His suicide brought changes to Riker’s island and helped lead to a “$3 million settlement” (Weiser, 2019). His tragic death will always be a reminder that mental health should be taken more seriously and it should be provided to anyone. Although he wasn’t able to enjoy his settlement, he at least was able to help his brother and sister.
- Gross, S. R. (2017). Race and wrongful convictions in the United States. In Routledge Handbook of Criminal Justice Ethics (pp. 225-237). Routledge.
- Weiser, B. (2019). $3 million settlement in Kalief Browder lawsuit is approved. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/16/nyregion/kalief-browder-settlement.html