Last year, the office of Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District, released a report denouncing the horrific conditions in the adolescent jail on Rikers, describing it as a place that “seems more inspired by Lord of the Flies than any legitimate philosophy of humane detention.” Browder experienced this firsthand during the many months he was held there.
In the fall of 2010, Browder, who was seventeen years old at the time, found himself assigned to a housing unit that was ruled by a gang. He was not a member of the gang, and on October 20, 2010, he recalls, a gang leader spit in his face. He decided that he needed to retaliate. If he had not, he said, it would have “meant they could keep spitting in my face. I wasn’t going to have that.”
That night, at 10:55 P.M., shortly before the guards were about to lock the inmates in their cells, Browder punched the teen-ager who had spit at him. Four surveillance cameras recorded this incident and its aftermath: a drawn-out beatdown of Browder by about ten other teen-age inmates. The Department of Correction’s official paperwork characterizes this incident as “a multiple inmate fight.”