In May, 2010, Kalief Browder, a sixteen-year-old high-school sophomore, was arrested in the Bronx for allegedly stealing a backpack. He insisted that he was innocent, but he was taken to Rikers Island, New York City’s four-hundred-acre jail complex. Browder spent the next three years at Rikers, awaiting trial while his case was repeatedly delayed by the courts. In May, 2013, the case against him was dismissed. (Last fall, I wrote about Browder for the magazine.) This week, The New Yorker obtained two surveillance-camera video clips that depict the dual horrors of Browder’s years in jail: abuse by a guard and by fellow-inmates.
September 23, 2012: Inside the Bing
Browder spent a total of about two years in solitary confinement, including nine months leading up to the incident shown in the video above, which took place inside Rikers’s Central Punitive Segregation Unit, better known as the Bing. On this day, a guard came to Browder’s cell door to escort him to the showers. As the footage shows, Browder put his hands through a slot in the door to be cuffed. The guard opened the door and began leading him down the tier. In the video, Browder appears to speak to the guard, who then threw him to the ground.
Browder recently saw this footage for the first time. “I just felt him tighten a grip around my arm,” he recalled, referring to the guard. “In my head, I was wondering why he tightened it so tight, like he never usually does, and that’s when he swung me and kept trying to slam me.” Browder says that, when a captain arrived, the guard explained that Browder had tried to run. “I was on the floor going crazy: ‘He’s lying! I didn’t do nothing!’ ”
Browder said that he was punished for this incident with extra days in solitary confinement. Usually, an inmate is taken to an administrative hearing before he is given extra time in solitary. “If I would’ve went to Bing court,” he said, “I would’ve told them to look at the camera, and they would’ve seen I didn’t do anything. After that happened, to be honest, I was scared to come out of my cell to get in the shower again, because I felt, if I come out of my cell and he slams me again, then I’m going to get more box days.”
Read more: The New Yorker