On the campaign trail, Rand Paul often emphasizes two major goals: criminal justice reform and expanding the Republican Party to include more young and minority voters. In particular, the Kentucky senator has pushed the GOP to speak out against policies that lead to the imprisonment of minorities. In doing so, Paul often cites the story of an black New York City man, Kalief Browder, who spent three years of his young life locked up at Rikers Island prison without trial.
The story has ended in tragedy: Browder committed suicide at his home on Saturday. He was 22.
Late Sunday evening, Paul offered his condolences to the family of the young man whose story he has told many times.
“Kelley and I extend our most heartfelt sorrow and deepest condolences to the family of Kalief Browder. May his soul rest in peace,” Paul wrote on Facebook.
In 2010, Browder was a 16-year-old high school sophomore arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack. He insisted he was innocent, but spent the next three years of his life – missing his junior and senior year of high school – locked up, awaiting trial. Browder’s case was eventually dismissed by prosecutors in March of 2013.
Browder had spent almost two of his years in jail holed up in solitary confinement, where he tried to commit suicide multiple times. And recent security camera footage obtained by The New Yorker showed the horrors he endured, which included abuse by a guard and being violently attacked by a group of fellow inmates.
Browder’s story first appeared in The New Yorker in October, drawing Paul’s attention.
In February, Paul told Browder’s story to attendees gathered at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to emphasize the sixth amendment.
“We should have speedy trials. Kalief Browder was a 16-year-old boy accused of a crime. He’s from the Bronx. He’s an African-American kid from the Bronx, accused of a crime, he was sent to Rikers,” Paul said. “He spent three years in Rikers. He was never tried. He tried to commit suicide four times. If you ask Kalief Browder, you ask his mom or anybody that lives around him in the Bronx whether or not the Bill of Rights is being defended, he lives in that other America that Martin Luther King talked about.”
Paul said the GOP must expand to include “others who believe in privacy,” and said big government often fails in “giving justice to those who deserve it.”
Paul also shared Browder’s story at the National Constitution Center during a campaign stop in Philadelphia in May.
“So when you see people angry in some of our big cities think this may not be your life, but think how Kalief Browder, think how his friends and his parents now feel about justice.”
He added, “if the Republican party wants to be a dominate party, they want to win Philadelphia, and big cities where we haven’t done very well, we need to defend the sixth amendment as well as we defend the second amendment.”
Two days later on the floor of the Senate, Sen. Paul told Kalief’s story during his so-called “filibuster” of the Patriot Act.
“If you want to know why people are unhappy in some of our big cities, you want to see that unhappiness in the street, it’s because some people don’t think they’re getting justice, and I frankly agree with them. I think there isn’t justice in our country when this occurs,” Paul said.
Browder’s family attorney, Paul Prestia, told msnbc in late May that neither Sen. Paul nor his campaign had reached out to Kalief to discuss his story and its impact on the national conversation about criminal justice reform.
“He has no idea who Senator Rand Paul is,” Prestia told msnbc.
Browder recently ended the spring semester at Bronx Community College and had been giving depositions for a lawsuit filed against the city before his death.
Prestia said the case was headed for settlement after “six hour depositions” where Kalief discussed “his time in solitary confinement, repeated suicide attempts and even mice crawling up his bed sheets.”
“We ask that the mayor and every public official in New York City take every action possible to ensure that no other person in New York City will ever again be forced to live through all that Kalief endured,” Prestia added in a statement on Monday.