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Recall the Browder brothers

Kaicie Boeglin

Opinions Editor

Photo by Eve L. Ewing

The American justice system contains broken parts, and one rarely talked about is plea deals. This country is redundant in saying innocent until proven guilty. The Browder family is best exemplified for this case.

In 1997 Akeem Browder was found skipping class with a girl. High school security found him receiving fellatio and claimed he matched the physical description of the Bronx rapist. He was arrested at 15 years old despite records and statements claiming the rapist was 26. He was arrested as he was walking his younger brothers Deion and Kalief home from school. On the front steps of their family home Akeem Browder was taken away for a crime he did not commit. Lack of evidence and wrongful identification dismissed the rape allegations. Despite all charges related to the rapings being dropped and the oral sexual relation being consensual, Akeem Browder was facing 20 years in prison unless he took the plea deal.

In 2010 Kalief Browder was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack. He was held in solitary confinement at Rikers Island and was incarcerated for three years before having a proper trial. He was 16 years old at the time of the arrest. After seeing what his older brother endured and taking into account the New York Stop and Frisk law, Browder started to pick up on inconsistencies within the New York Police Department (NYPD). Unlike his brother, Kalief refused to accept any plea. His case had a lack of witness to testify, botched police reports and negligence on behalf of the NYPD and Rikers Island. His well known statement against each plea was, “I’m alright. I didn’t do it. I’m alright.”

These boys of the Browder family were both wrongfully accused, but each followed a different journey. Akeem Browder’s face is forever plastered with headlines depicting “rapist” and a sodomy charge branding him a sex offendor. This record caused an imbalance of thought during Browder’s candidacy for Mayor of New York City.

It's speculated that Akeem's experience is why Kalief wanted to maintain his innocence. Pleading guilty can get people out faster but also terminate any chance at future employment, connections or relationships. An incarceration record can and will ruin a person. By maintaining his innocence and getting his message out to the media, Kalief Browder was able to start a reform.

The Browders grew up in the Bronx around the Bloods, Crips and Latin Kings. Should Kalief had pleaded guilty he would have been brought back to a different type of jail system where gangs still control what happens. Being held in solitary confinement broke this man before he had a chance to fulfill and escape his youth. However, if he did not uphold his innocence the way he did, the corruption at Rikers and within the NYPD would have remained unnoticed. New York's court issue ready rule and solitary confinement as a whole would not have been reevaluated.

Nothing Kalief Browder endured during his incarceration was ethical or acceptable. Taking into account the time already served if Browder took a plea deal, he would have been incarcerated for less time. His case was ultimately dismissed in late 2013.

Both men were arrested and taken into custody by the NYPD’s 48th Precinct. District Attorney Robert Johnson represented the state in both cases and tried each of the Browder boys. Both cases exemplified the broken system that America uses to justify innocence by containing a lack of evidence and/or a witness, guilt comprised of color, state issued ready rules and the media outlook.

Whereas Akeem didn't uphold his innocence in fear of indictment from the state, Kalief did in order to prove the system was broken. Kalief Bowder was denied a right to a fair and speedy trial and was repeatedly offered guilty pleas to avoid trial. After 700+ days straight in solitary confinement Browder no longer was capable of knowing freedom. The United Nations lists 15 days straight in solitary as torture. After his release, a series of events led Browder to suicide.

Here is evidence that no matter if you are innocent you are faced with a choice where neither option has a perfect end. Plea deals are accepted more often by innocent people in order for them to go home. The Browder brothers show that even when you go home you aren't truly free. Akeem took a plea but is forever branded by the media and possesses a record. Kalief fought for his freedom but the loopholes of the system kept him contained. In his case the media was able to help push the story of his innocence, but the media also drew in unwanted attention which attributed to his suicide. In America we are all guilty until proven innocent.


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