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By Andrea Peyser
February 24, 2017
It’s a Tale of Two Rikers. And this pair of true-life stories should frighten and outrage any law-abiding New York City-dweller.
Last week, 19-year-old El Salvadoran immigrant Estivan Rafael Marques Velasquez, an admitted gangbanger cooling his heels in the United States illegally, was quietly spit out onto the streets of Queens.
He’d served a light stretch in the city’s notoriously ultraviolent Rikers Island jail after pleading guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct. His criminal résumé also includes convictions for second-degree reckless endangerment and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon. Solid guy.
Officials from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit — ICE — in New York requested they be informed when Velasquez was sprung so they might swoop in and deport the potentially dangerous character. It didn’t happen.
Velasquez, instead, was set free, welcomed into the bosom of this city by the suicidal Sanctuary Cities Law signed into effect by Mayor de Blasio in 2014. I’d be surprised if milk and cookies weren’t on his generous menu.
Fortunately, federal authorities quickly picked him up and put him in detention pending his booting from our shores. It was a close call.
Too close, in de Blasio’s above-the-law New York City.
Now, compare this gentle treatment of a possibly vicious foreigner with the Kafkaesque torture inflicted on an American citizen — a young man convicted of no crime.
Kalief Browder was locked up on Rikers in 2010 when he was 16 years old, accused of stealing a backpack. Then the authorities threw away the proverbial key.
With his mother initially unable to come up with $3,000 to bail him out, Browder spent about three years in hell, more than two of them in solitary confinement.
He was captured on video getting beaten by correction officers and fellow inmates. Several times, he attempted to kill himself.
Finally, in 2013, the Bronx District Attorney’s Office dropped all charges against him. He was free — but despondent, paranoid and suicidal.
Then he was dead.
Browder hanged himself by the neck in 2015 with an electrical cord flung from a second-floor window of his Bronx house.
He was 22 years old.
The disparate treatment given one of our own versus a man of a protected class hangs heavily on critics of the criminal-justice system.
“The mayor is going out of his way to protect this immigrant. Good for him,’’ Paul Prestia, a lawyer representing the Browder family in a $20 million lawsuit against various city agencies, told me bitterly.
“But he did not show the backbone in going after those responsible for the tragedy that was Kalief Browder. Juxtapose the sanctuary law with young men and women in the city. Why wasn’t more done to protect them?’’
For a time, it seemed as if anyone with a microphone wanted a piece of Browder. On “The View,’’ Rosie O’Donnell gushed to him, “You really are a hero.’’ Ex-Republican presidential contender Rand Paul evoked his name on the campaign trail. Former President Barack Obama mentioned him while enacting a ban on solitary confinement for youths and low-level offenders in federal prison. Mayor de Blasio even hailed him while instituting jail reforms, including ending solitary for juveniles.
Rap mogul Jay Z elevated Browder to the status of the holy in “TIME: The Kalief Browder Story,’’ a six-part documentary series on which he served as an executive producer. It debuts Wednesday on Spike TV.
Jay Z at a panel discussion on the documentary about Kalief Browder photo: Getty Images
“Sometimes our prophets come in the form of young, undeveloped energy that will teach us grown-ups how to live better and have more compassion, and Kalief Browder was the prophet,’’ he says on the show.
It wasn’t enough.
Aggravatingly, city officials continue to defend their kid-glove treatment of an admitted member of the bloodthirsty M-13 gang, while all but ignoring the Kalief Browders of this city.
Velasquez was freed after serving time for “an offense that does not qualify as a violent or serious felony under the city’s local laws, and his gang affiliation was not supported by evidence that meets even minimal constitutional standards,’’ a City Hall spokeswoman told The Post.
He posed a danger to the public and law-enforcement officers.
Kalief Browder threatened no one.
As long as officials get to choose whom to treasure at the expense of everyone else, we’re in for grief.