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Jay Z Calls for Rikers Jail to be Closed in Exclusive Interview with Democracy Now!

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Today marks the first anniversary of President Obama ending juvenile solitary in the federal prison system. Obama took the action in response to the case of New York City teenager Kalief Browder, who committed suicide in 2015 at the age of 22. In 2010, when Kalief was just 16, he was sent to Rikers Island, without trial, on suspicion of stealing a backpack. He always maintained his innocence and demanded a trial. Instead, he spent the next nearly three years at Rikers—nearly 800 days of that time in solitary confinement. Here in Park City, Utah, at the Sundance Film Festival, Democracy Now! got an exclusive interview with Jay Z as he premieres his new docuseries, “Time: The Kalief Browder Story.”

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AMY GOODMAN: And today marks the first anniversary of President Obama ending juvenile solitary in the federal prison system. Obama took the action in response to the case of New York City teenager Kalief Browder, who committed suicide in 2015 at the age of 22. In 2010, when Kalief was just 16, he was sent to Rikers Island, without trial, on suspicion of stealing a backpack. He always maintained his innocence and demanded a trial. Instead, he spent the next nearly three years at Rikers, nearly 800 days of that time in solitary confinement.

Here in Park City at the Utah Sundance Film Festival, Democracy Now! got an exclusive interview with Jay Z as he premiered his new docuseries, Time: The Kalief Browder Story.

AMY GOODMAN: Jay Z, you called Kalief a prophet. Why?

JAY Z: Well, you know, we’ve seen prophets come in many shapes and forms, and we’ve seen, you know, sometimes tragedy happens for our prophets—Martin Luther King. And, you know, I believe this young man, his story will save a lot of lives. You know, what was done to him was a huge injustice, and I think people see his story and realize like, man, this is going on. This is not like one case that happened. This is happening a lot for people, you know, especially places where I come from—inner boroughs and Marcy Projects and the Bronx and Brooklyn and all these places. So, it’s very important, his story.

AMY GOODMAN: You knew Kalief. What were your thoughts when he committed suicide?

JAY Z: I wouldn’t say I knew him. You know, I heard about his story, and I reached out to him, and I met him. Came to my office. The way this all happened was really—we’ll explain that another time, but it was meant to happen. And he came to my office, and I just, you know, wanted to see him and tell him that—give him encouragement for what he had just—for those three years of his life that he was—that he had missed, and, you know, just offer encouragement and anything I could do for him.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Rikers should be closed?

JAY Z: Oh, man. Well, if anything like that is happening, if one kid—if that happens to one kid, any place that that can happen to any kid should be closed.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Jay Z, executive producer of Time: The Kalief Browder Story, which premieres on Spike TV on March 1st.

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