MSNBC’s Melber Compares Locking Up Criminals to Jim Crow ‘Mass Incarceration’

News & Politics

In the past week, MSNBC host Ari Melber demonstrated that he has learned nothing from the disastrous bail reforms that liberals have already enacted in places like New York as he complained that the reforms have still not released enough criminals who are awaiting trials.

As he tried to argue how easy it allegedly is for a wrongly accused innocent person to be held for years in jail, he mangled the facts in recalling the case of a former gang member with a previous criminal record who spent years in jail over a crime he probably did not commit.

Melber began the segment by recalling the poor conditions and violence at the Rikers Island facility in New York which is used to hold some defendants until their trials. As part of his commentary, he complained that when Republican Rudy Giuliani was mayor of New York City, he pushed for the prosecution of petit offenses to help prevent worse crimes.

After complaining that Democratic mayors Bill de Blasio and Eric Adams have not gone far enough in releasing prisoners awaiting trial, Melber added:

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Most modern democracies do not do this at all.  They do not jail hundreds of thousands of defendants before trial, let alone put their freedom up for a literal capitalist auction with a bail system that literally, publicly admits that it favors the rich over people who can’t post bond. New York’s rising bail now costs more than the average New Yorker’s annual salary, what they earn for the whole year. And all of this as America building on and prolonging a mass incarceration system that grew out of racist Jim Crow crackdowns on black Americans.

A bit later, referring to the bail bond system of lending money to criminal defendants for bail, Melber added: “When it comes to standing up to this system, to dealing with Jim Crow capitalist mass incarceration in our country, well, you heard, they just want someone else to solve it.”

In trying to prove unfairness, he recounted the cases of former Donald Trump advisor Peter Navarro being arrested formisdemeanor contempt of Congress, compared with the tragedy of Kalief Browder, who was accused (possibly wrongly) of both robbery and assault and spent three years at Rikers Island. Melber recalled:

Take Kalief Browder. He was just 16 years old when he was accused of stealing a backpack, but that was enough to throw him into this system. His bail was set at $10,000 — money that he, as a 16-year-old, obviously did not have, and his family didn’t have. He was held in Rikers for longer than the punishment that he would have gotten if convicted of stealing a backpack. That is a Kafkaesque perversion of justice here in modern America. And that charge was ultimately dropped anyway.

While it is true that Browder’s trial was delayed for too long, leaving him to stay jailed for three years in harsh conditions, Browder was actually prevented from being bailed out because he had multiple previous run-inswith the law, most importantly a felony conviction of vehicle theft from just eight months earlier, and was still on probation. And the new crime accusation was that of a violent felony.

His mother had, in fact, managed to borrow enough money to pay the $900 bond, but the probation issue prevented his release. (The bail amount was notably $3,000 and not $10,000 as Melber claimed.)

A grand jury indicted Browder for both assault and robbery because he was accused of punching the alleged victim in the face to steal his backpack (with about $1,000 of contents inside), so it was not just a simple petit theft accusation as is often suggested.

In the documentary, Time: The Kalief Browder Story, even liberal activist and CNN contributor Van Jones admitted Browder had a history of gang activity before his stay at Rikers Island.

Over the past several years, other media outlets have similarly cited the case in a misleading manner, making it one of the inspirations for the liberal bail reform movement.

This misleading commentary was sponsored in part by Fidelity. Their contact information is linked.

Transcripts follow:

MSNBC’s The Beat with Ari Melber

October 11, 2022

6:38 p.m. Eastern

ARI MELBER: This also shows how our justice system continues to fail us in 2022. Rich and prominent defendants are not typically held in jail before trial. The system still favors their money and connections, and lets them prepare for trial in the comfort of their own home. If you are legally presumed innocent and not a flight risk, well, that approach could make sense for all defendants, but it is poor and minority defendants who are routinely held in jails like Rikers before trial. Those horrific conditions that I’m showing you tonight that you may want to look away from, let me be clear, this is where innocent people are being warehoused awaiting trial in America. … The vast majority of inmates you see in these pictures and those videos are people waiting for trial — legally presumed innocent but too poor to get out or post bond.

(…)

What about the people that make up this data? Take Kalief Browder. He was just 16 years old when he was accused of stealing a backpack, but that was enough to throw him into this system. His bail was set at $10,000 — money that he, as a 16-year-old, obviously did not have, and his family didn’t have. He was held in Rikers for longer than the punishment that he would have gotten if convicted of stealing a backpack. That is a Kafkaesque perversion of justice here in modern America. And that charge was ultimately dropped anyway.

(…)

Browder was legally innocent, a minor accused of a petit theft, incarcerated for three years while rich, connected defendants are out free, awaiting their felony trials. Some of them even complain about the hours — not years — the hours they were stuck in a jail for that required booking. (PETER NAVARRO, FORMER DONALD TRUMP ADVISOR) A Trump aide awaiting trial.

(…)

And targeting alleged petit offenses by certain people is not the defect of this type of mass incarceration — it’s the whole point. Long before Rudy Giuliani exposed himself working for Donald Trump and clashed with law and democracy, Mr. Giuliani led the controversial 1990s crackdown on specifically, deliberately petit offenses — the little stuff. They referred to prioritizing prosecutions of things like just breaking windows, flooding prisons and jails with any and all accused offenders.

MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI (from the 1990s): You have a building and somebody breaks a window (editing jump) Eventually, they’ll break all the windows of your building, and your building will fall down because you thought that the first problem was so small that you didn’t have to deal with it. (editing jump)  You’ve got to pay attention to somebody urinating on the street. It may be a minor thing — it may be a serious thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE VOICE: The problem with “Broken Windows,” cops over police in different ways depending on who you are.

BILL WEIR, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (from 2013): That controversial tactic designed to stop crime before it happens, they say the NYPD stops and frisks way too many innocent men of color for no good reason.

MELBER: Today, prosecutors have targeted Mr. Giuliani for indictment on charges much more serious than urination or breaking windows. He’s a target in the Trump election inquiry in Georgia. But it was Mayor Giuliani’s crackdown and that wider drug war that led the Rikers population here — the second largest incarceration facility in America — to skyrocket.

(…)

MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D-NEW YORK CITY): We have to have a plan B because those who have created a plan A that I have inherited didn’t — obviously didn’t think about a plan B, you know. Look at the incarceration numbers. (editing jump) When you still have a higher number of people that can fit into the borough-based jails, what do we do with those that continue to do shootings, robberies, assaults, rapes and other crimes? What do we do with them?

MELBER: What do you do with defendants awaiting trial? The mayor knows the answer. The government doesn’t do anything with the wealthy and powerful defendants. It certainly doesn’t spend your money — your tax dollars housing them or putting them in very dangerous conditions where they might get beaten or killed before trial, which is wrong and not how pre-trial detention should work.

(…)

Most modern democracies do not do this at all.  They do not jail hundreds of thousands of defendants before trial, let alone put their freedom up for a literal capitalist auction with a bail system that literally, publicly admits that it favors the rich over people who can’t post bond. New York’s rising bail now costs more than the average New Yorker’s annual salary, what they earn for the whole year. And all of this as America building on and prolonging a mass incarceration system that grew out of racist Jim Crow crackdowns on black Americans.

(…)

The Rikers problem, the jail problem, the bail problem is so clearly stated, even the people in charge claim to admit problem. We showed you them admitting the problem. But, boy, when it comes to standing up to this system, to dealing with Jim Crow capitalist mass incarceration in our country, well, you heard, they just want someone else to solve it.

(…)

MSNBC’s The Beat with Ari Melber

October 11, 2022

ARI MELBER: Take Kalief Browder. He was just 16 years old when he was accused of stealing a backpack, but that was enough to throw him into this system. His bail was set at $10,000 — money that he, as a 16-year-old, obviously did not have, and his family didn’t have. He was held in Rikers for longer than the punishment that he would have gotten if convicted of stealing a backpack. That is a Kafkaesque perversion of justice here in modern America.

(…)

Spike’s Time: The Kalief Browder Story

Episode 2:

VAN JONES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Sure, he may have been getting in trouble before, but, suddenly, he gets hit upside the head with a big injustice stick. In that moment, he was innocent. And that matters to people.

KALIEF BROWDER: I didn’t rob nobody.

KAMAL BROWDER, BROTHER OF KALIEF BROWDER: After he got locked up, that’s when he changed. He didn’t want people calling him “Spade” no more. He was like, “I’m not that person. Don’t call me Spade. Call me Kalief.”

JONES: When he was on the streets, he was gang-affiliated. When he got in jail, he refused to be gang-affiliated.

(…)

CNN’s Don Lemon Tonight

July 22, 2022

LAURA COATES: I remember when the law was talked about because I think about the young boy, Kalief Browder, and I think about the accusation he’d stolen a backpack, and having to pay for the presumption of innocence and the tragedy that fell upon him and his family based on not being able to make that bail.

(…)

MSNBC’s The Beat

July 20, 2022

ARI MELBER: Take Kalief Browder. He was an innocent 22-year-old, never convicted of anything, He was legally innocent in the eyes of the system. He was awaiting a trial but was held for two years in solitary confinement, then died in a jail at Rikers in a reported suicide. Now, what crime was he charged with while still legally innocent? What was he awaiting trial for? Stealing a backpack. The prison system held him for longer before trial than the likely punishment for that petit offense of stealing a backpack.

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