Ta-Nehisi Coates is a journalist, but he does not practice the mystical rites of "objective journalism." He is also black, violating another norm of American print media. For both these reasons we now finally have some truth about the criminal justice system amid all the lies of white people who imagine that NSA's ability to read your phone bill is the real threat to liberty. As if it was even in the same moral universe on the government terrorism visited on black Americans.
At our implicit behest, a boy was snatched off the streets of New York. His parents were told to pay a certain sum, or he would not be released. When they did not pay, he was beaten and then banished to lonely cell. Browder’s captors then offered him a different way out—pay for your freedom in the political currency of a guilty plea. He refused. More beatings. More solitary. The sum was lowered. Browder still refused. He was subjected to the same routine. Browder defeated his captors. They tired, released him, and likely turned to perpetrate the same scheme on some other hapless soul.
Browder’s victory came at the cost of martyrdom, and in his name we should be strong enough to speak directly about what he endured. Kalief Browder was kidnapped in our name. Kalief Browder was held for ransom in our name. Kalief Browder was tortured in our name. Kalief Browder was killed in our name.
Let us not pretend that this kidnapping scheme gone awry was somehow moral, or tolerable, just because it was lawful. Let us not accept the notion that our laws are simply sanctification—an expensive tuxedo for base criminality. And let us not pretend that Browder’s death was imposed on us from above. We are living in the America, in the New York, that we wanted. This must be accepted. If we are not responsible for what happened to Kalief Browder, for the ransoming of children, then we are not responsible for ensuring that it never happens again.