The series’ objective is apparently twofold: To honor Browder’s life and to demonstrate, step by step, how the cycle of poverty and incarceration destroys innocent lives. The filmmakers take us through the process of Browder’s arrest as well as the civil rights suit he filed against the City of New York upon his release. Despite no evidence of wrongdoing, 11 attorneys turned him down before he landed one, a former D.A. named Paul Prestia, who would take his case. (A public attorney, one talking head explains, is judged not by the number of acquittals he wins but by “how many cases he can get off his desk.”)
Time is deeply empathetic towards its subject and scathingly critical of the legal system that put Browder behind bars and changed him so fundamentally. Talking heads like Jones, Al Sharpton, and former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik explain how the process is weighted against a defendant like Browder. After police officers picked up Browder while he was walking home one night, his mother couldn’t afford bail. “A lot of people just go to the ATM,” activist Ezra Ritchin notes. “But we’re sitting in the poorest congressional district in the country. Eighty-five to ninety percent of people can’t make bail.”
The series nimbly alternates between Browder’s story and one that’s closer in scale to 13th , DuVernay’s documentary about the intersection between race and incarceration in America. It’s a story about a rapidly fraying social safety net and the heavy police presence that has come to fill the void. Instructive details speak to the intractability of the problem, the deep roots of racial discrimination and violence in this country — like Rikers’ namesake, Richard Riker, New York’s chief magistrate from 1815 to 1838, who had a side hustle kidnapping runaway slaves and selling them back into bondage.
From Browder’s experience in foster care (his birth mother was a crack addict) to his early brushes with police to the arrest that put him on Rikers, the story of this one person speaks volumes about the system of racial inequality in the United States. Time combines the details of Browder’s life with historical insight to paint a picture of structural abuse that relies on dehumanizing the millions of prisoners sitting in facilities across the country. “They are the ‘others’ we allow to exist just in the periphery of our own imagination,” Michelle Alexander says. “We’re going to have to learn to care about them.”
Time: The Kalief Browder Story premieres Wednesday, March 1 at 10 p.m. on Spike.