By Naureen Khan
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, referred to the suicide of 22-year-old Kalief Browder as a tragic example as he spoke of justice applied unequally to black and white Americans Tuesday night.
Browder was arrested in 2010, when he was 16, for stealing a backpack—a crime he insisted he did not commit. He was in jail on Rikers Island in New York City for three years, without a conviction. His plight, including brutal beatings by jail guards and other prisoners as well as years in solitary confinement, was chronicled in a 2014 New Yorker story and became a symbol for a broken criminal justice system — one that Paul has invoked frequently on the campaign trail.
“I’ve been telling this story for about a year and a half, two years, and it makes me sad now. I thought about not talking about it or doing the story but I thought that this young man’s memory should help us to try and change things. He died this weekend, he committed suicide,” Paul said. “Even if you’re convicted of a crime, in America for goodness sake, are we going to let people be raped and murdered and pillaged in a prison because they’re convicted? And he wasn’t even convicted.”
The remarks, among the most somber and reflective the Kentucky senator has made on criminal justice, came at a fundraiser dinner for Baltimore County Republicans, only miles away from where protests broke out in the aftermath of the death of another African-American man in police custody.