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Kalief Browder & The Contradictions of America’s Legal & Prison System

Kalief Browder

The final episode of a six part docu-series about Kalief Browder aired last night on SpikeTV. Kalief was a young man who committed suicide 2 years after his release from Rikers Island Jail in New York. Kalief sat in Rikers for 3 years after being accused of stealing a backpack before all the charges against him were dropped.

I first became aware of Kaliefs story a few years ago right around the time of his release when he went to speak with Marc Lamont Hill on Huffington Black Voices. I also saw the footage released of Kalief being jumped by inmates and abused by guards that ended up on WorldStarHipHop.com.

 The insight and interviews from the family about Kalief and his case including the interviews with Kalief himself, gave you such an in depth view of the horrendous contradictions of our prison and legal system that reading some article could never do.

I am truly inspired and in awe of the bravery that Kalief exhibited while in the grip of the beast. He refused to plead guilty and accept a plea deal for something he did not do and rather opted to wait for his day in court, even when faced with the opportunity of being released the same day if he just took the plea deal. Kalief was familiar with the reality of those with felonies–especially when seeking employment. Kalief did not want this to be his fate.

Kalief turned down a plea deal at least 16 times. The prosecution would then ask for “another week” to prepare for trial which translated into several weeks. In addition, the prosecution was having a hard time tracking down the witness. 

Kalief’s trial was backlogged due to the number of cases that the Bronx District Attorney’s office has. In the year that Kalief was arrested, there were 5,695 felony cases that needed to go to trial.

Meanwhile, Kalief sat in jail as the days turned into months and the months turned into years, while being exposed to extreme levels of violence and being attacked by inmates. He was also abused, starved and mocked after trying to hang himself by correctional officers.

Kalief was released from jail after the prosecutors were finally forced to admit that they did not know where the witness was. All charges against Kalief were dropped but by then the damage had already been done.

In the docu-series Kalief mentioned a few times that he felt his childhood had been stolen from him–and it had been. He had to cope with the loss of missing pivotal moments such as graduating from high school, prom and going off to college while sitting in Rikers Island.

In one part of the docu-series, the camera crew followed Kalief as he walked down Broadway Ave in New York. Kalief mentioned that he loved coming down there because the people who walked those streets all looked like they had a sense of purpose as working professionals on their way to work or otherwise. Kalief said that he felt that he would never be like those people.

Prior to his suicide, Kalief was fighting a lawsuit against the city and the prison. In the docu-series, one of Kaliefs brothers talked about how Kalief was always saying that the police were following and watching him. His brother thought Kalief was tripping until one day he saw unmarked cars on the street watching their house. Kalief was also shot and stabbed in his neighborhood upon his release from Rikers Island.

I guess what Kalief went through in prison coupled with the neighborhood he was forced to come back to, was too much for Kalief. That and the fact that four days before his suicide him and his brother were supposed to appear in court from an frivolous encounter with the police.

His mother Ms. Vinida Browder, died soon after Kalief from a series of heart attacks. Finding Kaliefs body hanging from a cord outside his bedroom window and trying to fight the city and prison system, was a heavy load to carry. Her heart was already in a bad condition and she was trying to avoid a heart transplant.

Vinida Browder, Kalief’s mother

Ms. Browder opened her home to numerous kids as a foster mother and Kalief and his siblings were foster children. It is sick the domino effect that this war on young Black males from the womb to the tomb, has on family members. Kaliefs family was essentially torn apart by his incarceration and ultimate suicide. What happened to his mother is extremely saddening. Ms. Browder represents all the people who have lost their sons and loved ones to a contradicting system.

A younger Ms. Browder

Kaliefs lawsuit is currently on hold until the family comes to an agreement on who will replace their mother as representative in his case. To make matters extremely worse, Kaliefs father refused to sign a waiver to not receive any funds from Kaliefs case. This man is now trying to cash in on Kaliefs death that could have been avoided if he would have just paid Kaliefs bail that he refused to. He believed that if Kalief was in Rikers, then he must have done something wrong. There are so many sickening aspects to Kaliefs story that I know his mother literally died from grief and a broken heart over a system that is not broken, but is working well in the way that it was designed to.

Let Kaliefs story be a testament to the thousands of Black males funneled through the court and prison systems every day. Remember those who are locked away in cells and subjected to madness on a daily. Those who are wrongly confined and sentenced. Those who are forced to sit in prison because they can’t afford bail. Those who are forced to take plea deals because they are told if they go to trial, they run the risk of higher sentencing. The felon label is something the elite have designed to further keep Black and poor people impoverished and outcasted.

It is crazy the ways in which prisons are maintained and operated to steal the vital years of young Black men’s lives and spit them out with nothing, except being severely handicapped at ever achieving their “American dream.”

I know the feeling of helplessness comes easy and you feel like you are so tiny in the bigger scheme of things. It is easy to feel like this is the way things are and we have no power to change things. I sometimes feel like this but you can’t because then you start to accept the oppression.

Never will I accept what happens to Black males in this country as something that is normal because it is not. It is a system designed to break people, families and generations. Our silence on issues such as the prison industrial complex does not make these issues go away. The only thing it does is make those who are facing this beast, invisible.

About slausongirl

Slauson Girl is a South Central native with a love for journalism, history and all things Hip-Hop. She has a degree in Race and Gender Theory along with a minor in Journalism.

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