It has been said that being poor and a minority are two of the worst things that a person can be in America. Kalief Browder’s story is a testament to this statement.
Last month the Spike network premiered “Time: The Kalief Browder Story,” a 6 part docu-series about the tragic and heartbreaking story of Kalief Browder. If you’re not familiar with Kalief’s story, In 2010 he was arrested and charged with second degree robbery of a “backpack.” According to many case documents the victim of the robbery was very unreliable, and he changed his story about the incident several times. The documentary revealed that the police involved in the case didn’t thoroughly investigate the robbery. Since Kalief had a prior offense and because his family was unable to afford the 3,000 set bail, he was ultimately sent to Rikers Island Jail, (known for being one of the toughest jails in the United States). He spent 3 years in Rikers without being convicted of a crime, while waiting for a trial that never took place. Kalief was offered several plea deals but he continuously turned them down because he wanted to maintain his innocence.
Before watching the series, Kalief Browder was just another name that had gotten lost in most of our memories. His story is heartbreaking but sadly not uncommon. The documentary reopened public eyes and shed light on America’s broken and unfair criminal justice system that often lets young black, poor men fall through the cracks without any concern. Kalief endured many hardships while imprisoned. During his three years at Rikers, he was beaten by prison guards as well as other inmates. He was starved, tortured, and spent over 800 days in solitary confinement. Kalief was only 16 years old when he was arrested and he was jailed with men twice his age. Before his arrest Kalief was pretty much living life as a normal teen so to have his life changed so drastically and quickly was traumatic to his mental state.
By law all U.S. citizens are granted the right to a speedy trial however the state of New York has a policy in place called a “ready rule” which means that both defendant and the prosecutor must be ready for trial on or before the six months from the date of the arraignment, or else the charges can be dismissed. In Kalief’s case the six month period was extended due to legal inefficiencies.
Kalief was finally released from prison in 2013, but sadly he committed suicide two years later because of the mental distress that he endured while in prison. After Kalief’s death his mother Venida Browder and siblings advocated for his justice filing a lawsuit against the state of New York. Tragically his mom passed away five months before the docuseries was released mainly due to health issues that were exacerbated by Kalief’s incarceration. Because she died before the trail was complete the family’s lawsuit settlement was placed on hold. Currently his surviving siblings are still dealing with ongoing legal proceedings.
Since Kalief’s death a bill known as “Kalief’s Law” was passed in New York to ensure that persons arrested receive a speedy trial. Last year the mayor of NY Bill de Blasio ruled that 16 and 17 year olds would not spend time in solitary confinement.
It’s tragic that Kalief Browder had to in a sense become a martyr in order for criminal justice reform to be initiated. He was failed by a system that should have been protecting him largely in part due to his race and social status. His life was not viewed as valuable and it was swept beneath a rug. Ironically before watching the documentary we started back reading the “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. The book focuses on the mass incarceration of black men in America; Kalief was mentioned in the book.
The documentary serves as a challenge to become more informed about the laws and lack of laws that are affecting our society. It definitely creates a fire within to do more in terms of fighting injustice. Hopefully Kalief’s story will start the long process of correcting a judicial system that should provide equality for all instead of some.