New York City loves to brag about its liberal reputation. We have a progressive Mayor. Democrats absolutely dominate the City Council. The city is so firmly anti-Trump that it seems like he’s literally afraid to come home these days. We have a Democrat in the Governor’s Mansion. The state has a truly liberal Attorney General. Yet, in spite of all that – the justice system here continues to chew people up and spit them out every single day – ruining families and futures in the process. Our reputation does not match our reality.
What New York did to Kalief Browder and his family is criminal. Falsely accused in 2010 of stealing a backpack, Browder was arrested and sent to Rikers Island not for days or weeks, but for years without ever being convicted for a crime. While there, he routinely beaten and mistreated by guards and inmates alike, but refused to plead guilty for a crime he did not commit. After nearly three years, the charges were simply dropped and Kalief was free to go. Except the boy who went in, was not the battered man who came out. Kalief was never the same and struggled through depression – eventually dying by suicide in 2015.
No case has reminded me more of Kalief Browder than that of Pedro Hernandez. Except what’s happening to Pedro now comes after years and years of politicians promising that what happened to Kalief would never happen again. Dammit – it’s happening again – and all of New York is to blame.
As you read this, Pedro Hernandez is a teenager incarcerated at Rikers Island. He was arrested all the way back in 2015, but remains behind bars, without ever being convicted for a single thing. Since his arrest, like Kalief, he has been brutally beaten by guards. Like Kalief, the beatings were filmed. Like Kalief, the evidence that Pedro Hernandez is innocent is overwhelming, but he languishes in jail nonetheless.
Like Kalief, Pedro could be bailed out of jail right this very moment, but his family, like my family or yours, does not have the tens of thousands of dollars they are requiring for him to be released.
Please let me break this story down for you. It defies all logic that New York has allowed this to happen yet again.
In 2015, Pedro Hernandez, a 15-year-old boy with absolutely no criminal record, was arrested in connection with a shooting that took place outside of a Bronx grocery story in which another teenager was shot in the leg. Nine different eyewitnesses have come forward to say that Pedro did not commit this crime. The shooting victim has openly and repeatedly stated that it was not Pedro who shot him. In fact, the victim and other eyewitnesses have all gone on the record to state that NYPD Officer David Terrell threatened them to name Pedro Hernandez as the shooter or suffer serious consequences.
I believe them. Officer Terrell is actually suspended from active duty now and was stripped of his gun and badge after someone literally filmed him shooting craps in the Bronx while placing bets on whether he would let a handcuffed suspect free. He should’ve been fired on the spot for such a thing, but this is New York and our officers can choke a man to death without losing their job. Since I began researching this story, several more families have told me that Officer Terrell and his partner, Daniel Brady, and other officers from the 42nd precinct, have arrested their sons on false charges.
So, in spite of the suspension of the arresting officer and nine different eyewitnesses, including the victim himself, each saying Pedro Hernandez didn’t commit this crime, he has is now going into his third straight year of incarceration without even being convicted. This is criminal. It violates his constitutional right to a speedy trial. And it forces a child to literally grow up in incarceration – which should be avoided at all costs.
What has happened to Pedro Hernandez has only proven that. Security Officer Gregory Hyman, a full 20 months after brutally beating Hernandez, was finally arrested and charged with assault, endangering the welfare of a child, criminal obstruction of breathing and blood circulation, and harassment after a video of his assault against Hernandez was released. It’s no wonder, in previous interviews, that Pedro’s mother, Jessica Perez, said that Pedro sometimes tells her he “wants to die.”
In spite of it all, Pedro Hernandez has been a star behind bars – not only earning his GED, but getting nominated for a full college scholarship from the Posse Foundation and winning several academic awards for his own achievements as well as his support helping other students earn their GED’s. Knowing that his back is against the wall, the Bronx DA recently offered to release Pedro, giving him time served and five years probation, if he would simply plead guilty, but he bravely refused the offer.
So here we are. When this young man should be preparing for college, he’s stuck behind bars. His next court date isn’t until mid-September – meaning that even if he is acquitted, he’ll still lose his scholarship. All of New York should be ashamed. The damage done to this young man’s life is immeasurable and the system that should protect him from harm has failed him at every turn.