All charges dropped against wrongfully convicted youth Prakash Churaman

After years of fighting the incarceration system, Prakash alongside family, friends, and activists celebrated freedom after all charges against him were dropped by prosecutors

June 07, 2022 by Grace Woods, Amanda Yee
Prakash celebrating his victory with his mother, partner, child, and lawyer Jose Nieves (Credit: Amanda Yee)

Prakash Churaman is a New York City youth who was 15 years old when New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers kidnapped him from his home in the early morning, drove him around for three hours, and upon arriving at the 113th Precinct of New York City, handcuffed him to a pipe attached to the wall. Prakash would then be interrogated for three hours and fifteen minutes, before making incriminating statements allegedly implicating himself in a murder. There was no physical or forensic evidence of hm committing the murder.

Prakash spent six years of his youth locked up behind bars in Riker’s Island, one of the most violent and dangerous prisons in the country. But Prakash did not lose hope. He began organizing the movement for his freedom from behind prison bars. Finally, in December 2020, Prakash and his lawyer, Jose Nieves, won his release on bail. After six years of incarceration, Prakash was placed in home confinement, and finally allowed to see his family.

But home confinement is still a form of incarceration, and Prakash and his supporters would not rest until he won his true freedom. “I feel like I was just moved out of an actual jail cell and just put into my home now where it’s kind of like my jail cell now.” Prakash told Peoples Dispatch in February. 

On Monday, June 6, Prakash finally won his freedom. Prosecutors from the Queens district attorney’s office dropped all charges against him. In light of this massive victory, below are reflections from two activists closely involved in the movement to free Prakash, Grace Woods and Amanda Yee of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

This victory shows the power of a people’s movement for justice against the unrelenting opposition of a system clinging to power—through the abuse of children, the separation of families, the denial of life. 

This is a victory won through organization, discipline, mobilization, conversations with community, coalition work, and endless learning. This has been an eight-year-long fight. 

Prakash embracing his lawyer after all charges against him were dropped (Credit: Amanda Yee)

Prakash began organizing for his freedom at the age of 15, as soon as he was wrongfully incarcerated. He built a network of people who supported him from his years inside to the last year-and-a-half spent on an ankle monitor. This movement has raised bail to get Prakash home, mobilized consistent presence and rallies throughout his 98 court appearances, raised funds and provided mutual aid to support his family through the toll of incarceration, organized weekly phone zaps and email blasts demanding that the DA drop all charges, launched social media campaigns, created literature and art, outreached across New York City to raise consciousness about Prakash’s story and the system of prisons and policing, and gained international media coverage. 

It was only this organizing that created the mounting public pressure which forced Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz to dismiss Prakash’s charges—she would have preferred to try him again, but she knew the media attention and momentum was on our side, and if she continued with the trial it would have stoked even further outrage within the Queens community and reflected poorly on her and her office. We forced her hand. Her dismissal of the charges was the political choice she had to make to save face.

Prakash gesturing to his ankle monitor after winning his freedom, with the excitement that this last symbol of incarceration will soon be cut off of him (Credit: Amanda Yee)

This movement successfully put enough pressure on the system for it to break. And we can’t forget the lengths they went to maintain control. With absolutely no meaningful evidence against him and a growing list of corruption by the courts and law enforcement, dropping all charges against Prakash was the only inevitable conclusion here—and, still, he was dragged through the system for 8 years, punished and restricted for resisting their attempt to take his life. He was silenced for telling his story and for exposing systemic injustice. The people’s fight had to learn to combat that, had to be stronger, and had to continue to grow. And that’s how the struggle for the freedom of others must continue until we’ve built something entirely new.

Today was momentous, because it shows just how powerful we are if we unite in struggle! Never doubt the power of the people, the power of organizing!