kalief browder oil paintingLast Saturday, a young man named Kalief Browder took his own life at the age of 22. Browder spent the last six years of his life as an example of the brokenness of the American justice system, from racism, to its lack of oversight, and worse. Arrested in 2010 for a robbery of which he was not only never convicted, but also never even tried, Browder endured 1000 days of abuse on Rikers Island correctional facility, and then frequently underwent psychological treatment before his death.

What becomes clear from his story is that we, as a society, have failed Browder. We simply decided one day to torture and break him. We declared him guilty until proven innocent, and the damage had already been done. Indeed, in the end, Kalief Browder didn’t kill himself… we, in our complacency, killed Kalief Browder.

There are two stories that we have a moral obligation to remember in the wake of Kalief Browder’s passing. One, which will continue to get the most press attention, is of the unthinkable injustice he suffered. Journalist Jennifer Gonnerman covered Browder’s story exhaustively for The New Yorker and hers is the strongest, most compassionate document of this shameful chapter in American history. Gonnerman chronicled the mishandled robbery case, Browder’s unlawful incarceration, and his struggles to re-enter society after his release. It’s an excellent, if heartbreaking, piece of journalism.

But there’s another story that’s just as important to tell in this tragedy. Kalief Browder was not just a victim. Through all of his tribulations, he was a fighter who managed to find opportunity and hope in the midst of what many would see as a hopeless situation. Though he ultimately never overcame his struggles with depression, anxiety, and paranoia following his incarceration, Browder attempted to pursue an education that was denied to him as a high school student. He attended Bronx Community College and got treatment for his mental health concerns at St. Barnabas Hospital.

During this sadly brief upswing in Kalief Browder’s final year, he had the courage to tell his story through the national media and the political estate. His efforts resulted in a period of sweeping reform in the New York justice system. Words cannot express how awful it is that such reforms were even necessary, but Browder’s decision to lay his soul bare over and over in the public eye has likely saved countless others from having a similar experience.

We remember Kalief Browder not just for his struggles, but for his courage in the face of them. May his family find peace and may the world be made better for his example.

6 comments

  1. Elisabeth says:

    “We” didn’t kill Kalief Browder. If the author of this article feels responsibility for this young man’s treatment and suicide—and “unfair” doesn’t even begin to describe what he went through and suffered—then the author needs to say “I” am responsible. It was only after Kalief’s suicide that I heard about him, so I do not like being blamed for something about which I knew nothing.

    Many people do nothing, some people do what they can and a few people do a lot to advance reform. Unfortunately, it is cases like Kalief’s that become the catalyst for reform.

    1. Joe Edward says:

      Sticking your head in the sand does not absolve you of responsibility. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

      You know about it now and it is still happening to people. What are you going to do about it?

      1. Jerry Brown says:

        What are you doing about it Joe?

  2. Anthony says:

    This tradegy will continue to be played out until we hold accountable in Spirit and law those individuals responsible for this atrocious violation of Kalief’s human rights.
    We place blanket conviction on the prison system, government or the corporation which does nothing for change. It’s akin to placing blame on the Nazi’s for the horrific genocidal acts without a Nuremberg trail and other court proceedings.
    Bring out the names of the individuals who tortured Kalief. Bring charges of humans rights abuse on the state and institutions who caused this man’s demise.

    Changing policy without recompense to Kalief and society is hollow repentance.

    Justice is served when the example is set that when atrocities are commented there will be an lawful accounting for an individuals action.

    Minister Anthony Elfonzia aka
    SAGEMAN the Shaman Lovehealer

  3. Reverend Lisa Smith says:

    I would agree that the legal system did fail Kalief Browder. However, there were avenues that Kalief failed to take for his speedy release. First of all, after reading about this case I saw a Judge that offered Kalief his freedom if he plead guilty to mister meaner charges, he refused and perhaps rightfully so because he believed his was innocent of the charges brought against him. Next, Kalief was released from jail after serving three years at Riker’s Prison because the prosecutor could not produce any witnesses and as a result Kalief didn’t have to plead guilty to anything. Furthermore, after Kalief was released from jail he pursued his GED successfully, and a prominent attorney learned of his hardship and was willing to represent him in a civil court pursuant of a lawsuit against the city of New York which I strongly believe he would have been victorious in his lawsuit compensating him for the emotional stress he suffered while in a terrible penal system of injustice and abuse. The only thing that Kalief had on his mind was suicide, this young man simply wanted to end his life dispute his release from jail, and possible financial retribution through a civil court. There are many mentions of Kalief attempts at suicide.

    Inclusion, we must not blame ourselves or the legal system for the loss of this young man’s life, Kalief made the decision to end his own life three years after his release of his release. Yes, the system did fail him, his request for a trial was often delayed due to back logs of cases and court dates along with delayed requests of attorneys that were incompetent. Moreover, retribution of the legal system had eventually come to Kalief, but Kalief was not willing to accept it. He just wanted to kill himself sadly, Kalief or anyone around him may not have turned to God for peace in a situation as serious as this. It is in these moments of trouble and despairs that we must turn to God and seek him as our refuge and anchor. I can say this because I have encountered problems that were just too big for me to handle alone, I have leaned to turn the matter over to our heavenly father who promised us that he would comfort us and be us in our time of trouble. We must always remember God and his son Jesus Christ is the answer to life’s most challenging and difficult circumstances.

    Reference
    http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014 Three Years at Rikers

  4. stephanie gyamfi says:

    Good morning. This oil paining is beautiful. Is it for sale? If not, do you have contact information for the artist? I work in civil rights and would love to hang this in my office as a reminder of the daily struggle. Thank you for any information

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