Violence, inflicted by guards and among prisoners, is simply part of the fabric of daily life at Rikers Island. Thanks to tireless reporting by the likes of Michael Winerip and Michael Schwartz at the New York Times, we know this, but we know it in an abstract sense—told through broad statistics and quoted anecdotes. Here’s what it actually looks like.
Two surveillance videos obtained by The New Yorker show Kalief Browder, then 16. Browder was arrested in 2010 for allegedly stealing a backpack; he spent the next three years at Rikers awaiting trial, without ever having been convicted of a crime. The New Yorker’s Jennifer Gonnerman, another tireless prison reporter, covered Browder’s case extensively in a 2014 story for the magazine.
In the first video, from 2012, Browder is seen walking through Rikers’ solitary confinement unit, handcuffed and escorted by a guard. Apparently provoked by something Browder said—there is no audio—the guard throws him onto the floor, holding his face to the ground. In the second video, from 2010, Browder is beaten by a large group of inmates after punching a gang leader who spit in his face. For a full minute, the two guards on the scene are all but powerless to stop wave after wave of punches and kicks. Both videos are below.
Browder, who was released in 2013 after the case against him was dismissed, told Gonnerman that he was punished with additional time in solitary confinement for being beaten by the guard. He maintains that he did not steal the backpack that landed him in jail.