June 6, 2018, marked three years since 22-year-old Kalief Browder took his life after spending three years awaiting trial on Rikers Island.
Stating that not much has changed to address the tragedy, Akeem Browder, Kalief’s brother, told the AmNews, “What we’re doing is not only giving honor to Kalief, but it will be helping those that came before and after.”
May 15, 2010, at age 16, Browder and a friend were followed by NYPD officers after a party in the Belmont section of the Bronx. Initially, the officers explained that a man had just reported being robbed of his backpack. After searching the youths and finding nothing, the officers then told them that the theft had actually happened two weeks earlier.
Browder and his friend were handcuffed, taken to the 48 Precinct and fingerprinted.
Hours later, the two were in a courtroom. Browder’s friend was released as the case moved through the court. However, what was in Browder’s future was much different.
Because he had prior run-ins with the police, including an incident eight months earlier in which he allegedly took a delivery truck for a joyride and crashed it, causing him to be charged with grand larceny and put on probation, the judge ordered him to be held and set bail at $3,000.
The amount was far out of reach for his family, and Browder was on his way to Rikers, a 400-acre island in the East River, between Queens and the Bronx. He spent the next three years there awaiting trial. More than 800 of those days were spent in solitary confinement.
After being deprived of his right to a fair and speedy trial, his education and his adolescence, Browder was released in May 2013. He and his family publicly detailed his horrific experience on Rikers Island.
He recalled physical and verbal abuse by inmates and correctional officers, starvation, unsanitary conditions, poor medical treatment and suicide attempts by himself and other inmates. The NYC Department of Correction denied these allegations and refused to answer any questions about Browder’s stay on Rikers at the time.
Despite throwing himself into his education, obtaining his GED and working, he could not mentally escape what he endured. June 6, 2015, Browder committed suicide by hanging himself from an air conditioning unit outside his bedroom window. His mother discovered his body.
Activists fighting for redress say, Browder represents not just one single instance, but symbolizes the failed criminal justice system that exists in New York and beyond.
Most states have speedy-trial laws. These laws require trials to start within a certain time frame. That is not the case for New York, which follows something known as the “ready rule.” This rule says that all felony cases, aside from homicides, must be ready for trial within six months of arraignment, otherwise the charges can be dismissed. This “ready rule” and its many technicalities is a primary reason Browder spent three years on Rikers without a conviction, and the reason many people in New York are imprisoned fighting charges as old as six months.