Security Camera Footage From Inside Rikers Is a Rare First-Hand Look at ‘Culture of Violence’

April 23, 2015 | Prachi Gupta

The New Yorker has released 6 minutes of security camera footage from inside Rikers, giving the public a rare and disturbing glimpse into the prison’s “deep-seated culture of violence,” as a report by the United States attorney in Manhattan called it. The video shows two incidents that happened to Kalief Browder, who was arrested in 2010 at the age of 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack. The case was dismissed by prosecutors three years later, but in the interim, he was detained at Rikers.

In October, the New Yorker published a longer piece about the brutality Browder experienced within Rikers and the soul-deadening bureaucracy that stalled his release, but the video showing footage of some of the violence was released on Thursday. At the 1:26 mark, you can see an officer escort Browder out of a prison cell, when he suddenly swings Browder and knocks him down, where Browder remains pinned to the floor. That incident is described in the New Yorker article here:

Even in solitary, however, violence was a threat. Verbal spats with officers could escalate. At one point, Browder said, “I had words with a correction officer, and he told me he wanted to fight. That was his way of handling it.” He’d already seen the officer challenge other inmates to fights in the shower, where there are no surveillance cameras. “So I agreed to it; I said, ‘I’ll fight you.’ ” The next day, the officer came to escort him to the shower, but before they even got there, he said, the officer knocked him down: “He put his forearm on my face, and my face was on the floor, and he just started punching me in the leg.” Browder isn’t the first inmate to make such an allegation; the U.S. Attorney’s report described similar incidents.

In another incident, a prison gang leader spits on Browder and Browder retaliates by throwing a punch. For the next several minutes, two guards attempt to push off a swarm of inmates who rush to beat Browder up. This specific event isn’t mentioned in the October report, but the gang Browder encountered was:

The dayroom was ruled over by a gang leader and his friends, who controlled inmates’ access to the prison phones and dictated who could sit on a bench to watch TV and who had to sit on the floor. “A lot of times, I’d say, ‘I’m not sitting on the floor,’ ” Browder said. “And then they’ll come with five or six dudes. They’d swing on me. I’d have to fight back.” There was no escape, no protection, and a suspicion that some of the guards had an agreement with the gang members.

In 2014, Browder’s lawyer Paul V. Prestia filed a lawsuit against the City, the NYPD, the Bronx DA and the DOC, the New Yorker reported. Since Browder left the prison, numerous reports have come out condemning the culture of violence at Rikers, rampant inmate abuse and corruption among staff.