Justice is supposed to be swift. And justice is supposed to be just.
But all too often in the U.S., it is neither.
Kalief Browder is a prime example — perhaps the prime example.
As we’re sure you remember, Browder was sent to Riker’s Island at age 16. He was accused of stealing a backpack and assaulting a man.
He said he didn’t do it; the man who was allegedly assaulted changed his story after Browder told officers they had the wrong person.
The trouble was, when he was arrested, Browder was on probation — he’d pled guilty to grand larceny; he’d been accused of stealing a truck and taking it for a joyride. Although he pled guilty, he insisted that he hadn’t done it, but rather had simply been nearby while a friend of his drove the truck.
With this fresh in his mind, Browder wasn’t about to plead guilty again to a crime he didn’t commit.
However, because his family couldn’t make the $3,000 bail his judge set, and because he was on probation, Browder was shipped off to Riker’s.
There, he was subjected to beatings from his fellow inmates and from his guards, long stretches of time in solitary confinement and a deepening depression.
Every once in a while he would be trotted out into court, only to have his prosecutor say that the prosecution wasn’t ready and needed more time.
Ordinarily, in New York, a prisoner kept for more than six months without a trial has to be let go. But because of case backlog and byzantine court rules, those six months can be paused and restarted, meaning that Browder went years without his day in court.
The beatings got worse; Browder suffered from malnutrition, and the isolation of solitary confinement led to him attempting suicide more than once.
He was finally released in mid-2013, after a new judge was assigned to his case, and realized that the man who brought the charges against Browder had disappeared; that, in fact, hadn’t been heard from in some time.
Free, Browder found it hard to adjust to his new life, according to a profile in The New Yorker. He got his GED, a part-time job and a new lawyer who brought a suite of lawsuits against the city and justice system on his behalf.
None of it helped to erase the horrors he’d seen in prison, however. He attempted suicide several more times, finally succeeding in 2015.
His mother died last year of a heart attack. “In my opinion, she literally died of a broken heart,” Browder’s new lawyer, Paul Prestia told the New York Daily News.
Today, on what would have been Browder’s 24th birthday, his native Bronx decided to honor his memory.
His family member and his neighborhood council had long sought to provide the borough with some concrete monument to the young man, and today a street was renamed in his honor: East 181th Street and Prospect Way will be known from now on ad Kalief Browder Way.