At a time when the nation faces a crisis of mass incarceration with more than 2 million people in prisons and jails, the personal story of one Bronx man is revealing just how broken the criminal justice system truly is.
The devastating story of Kalief Browder is a story that affected many and brought police brutality and injustice to light.
In 2010, at the age of sixteen, Kalief Browder was apprehended by police who suspected him of swiping a stolen backpack. His family was unable to pay the $3,000.00 bail to get him out, which led to Browder’s three-year stint behind bars, two of those years in solitary confinement. Throughout his long overdue stay, Browder endured beatings, starvation and torture all without ever being convicted of a crime.
Browder wasn’t sent to just any prison. He was sent to Riker’s Island prison complex. To some this information may seem unimportant, however, this prison had a great role in the unfortunate demise of this young man.
Rikers Island prison complex is deemed as one of the nation’s most violent prisons in the country. As of May 2015, “the jail complex on Rikers Island failed to comply with minimum safety standards and has become so dangerous that it can no longer be permitted to accept inmate transfers from outside New York City” (Gonnerman, 2016). Browder was sent to somewhere he shouldn’t have been at in the first place.
One could only imagine what Browder had to experience in the awful prison. He endured beatings, starvation and torture without ever being convicted of a crime. On his first day there, he was beat by officers repeatedly, many of which were caught on surveillance video. “He was eventually released after the case was dismissed” (Moseley, 2017).
During Browders time at the prison, he endured about two years in solitary confinement, where he attempted to end his life several times. “Once, in February, 2012, he ripped his bed sheet into strips, tied them together to create a noose, and tried to hang himself from the light fixture in his cell” (Gonnerman, 2016).
In November of 2013, Browder was released from Rikers and unfortunately attempted suicide again. “This resulted in him being sent to the psychiatric ward at St. Barnabas Hospital, not far from his home, in the Bronx” (Gonnerman, 2016).
Weeks before his death, Kalief Browder was thriving at Bronx Community College. The 22-year-old had enrolled in college classes after being imprisoned. “While in school, Browder, who had suffered from depression since his imprisonment, wrote an essay titled “A Closer Look at Solitary Confinement in the United States,” where he explored the mental effects solitary confinement had on inmates. His professor gave him an A” (Time, 2017). Everything seemed fine on the surface, but you never know what someone is going through on the inside.
Then later that year, he stopped going to classes at Bronx Community College. During the week of Christmas, he was confined in the psych ward at Harlem Hospital.
Unfortunately, in June of 2015, Browder hanged himself with an air conditioning cord after he suffered from things like depression and several flashbacks from his imprisonment. “His last words were “ma I can’t take it anymore” to his mother” (Moseley, 2017).
Browder’s death had a big impact on his mother. Sadly, more than year after her son hanged himself, The New York Daily News reported that his mother, “Venida Browder, died from complications of a heart attack on October 6, 2016. The 63-year-old mother of six children died at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx” (Time, 2016). It upsets me to know that all of this could have been prevented from the very beginning if the justice system wasn’t so flawed.
The uproar of Browder’s story got attention by many celebrities like Rand Paul, and more importantly Jay-Z. This led to the highly acclaimed rapper to produce a docu-series shining light on Browder’s life and unfortunate situation. The docu-series traces that time, “weaving itself in and out of interview footage with Browder, his family and friends, various agents in the NYC criminal justice system, and occasional appearances from author Michelle Alexander (“The New Jim Crow”), Bryan Stevenson (“Just Mercy”) and Jay-Z” (Kalief, 2017). The docu-series also portrays the violence and the normalization of violence and subhuman standards at Rikers. Footage that is shown repeatedly stands out as you watch the ways that Browder was forced to survive despite the conditions that threatened to break him.
Some would say that the New York police department killed Kalief Browder. He was a product of discrimination and injustice. Browder would still be walking the streets among us.
This brings everyone to the question, how can we change the ongoing injustices against young African American males? Well according to an excerpt from Browder’s college essay, he says, “maybe another form of punishment or segregation should be implemented to deal with inmates who break jail rules as opposed to inmates who cause severe harm to other inmates and correction officers, because the mental health risk is poses are too great (Moseley, 2017). Our group would agree with his statement. Mental health is something that is overlooked in this country, especially within the African American community.
To wrap things up, though society has lost a innocent young man, and indirectly a mother, our group has high hopes that Browder’s story will be a cautionary tale and bring reforms to the practice of imprisoning juveniles and the use of solitary confinement.