Kalief Browder May 25th, 1993- June 6th, 2015
Kalief Browder was thrown into the system at birth. His biological mother was addicted to drugs, and gave Kalief to Child Protective Services. Venida Browder was Kalief’s adopted mother and had some biological and other adopted children as well. Exactly how many children Venida Browder adopted, is not certain. But what is certain, is that Venida had a huge heart full of love, and wanted to help and share her home with as many young children as she possibly could. Being adopted never bothered Kalief, he had a family surrounding him with love, kindness and unity. Growing up in the Bronx is challenging for anyone. Just walking down the street as a black person is giving New York Police Officers the chance to bustle a “stop and frisk.” Not only is this profiling, this is extremely racist. “Stop and frisk” is putting 1,600 people in the hands of the law by just walking down the street, which is exactly what happened to Kalief Browder on May 15th, 2010. Violent crime rates for Bronx New York is one of the highest in the nation. Rape, murder, armed robbery, aggravated assault and assault with a deadly weapon is what is happening every single day in the Bronx. The community is being exposed to this horrific behavior, many are at risk to becoming victims everyday, and many more are at risk to becoming the perpetrator’s themselves due to negative influence surrounding them. Kalief grew up showing interest in many things a typical boy his age would. He was described by his siblings as being, “full of energy, happy, silly, smart, competitive, and hard headed.” He loved to play sports, be with his friends and he always stood up for what he believed to be right.
Kalief’s Nightmare Begins:
At the time in 2010, New York was one of just two states to determine the “age of criminal responsibility” to be just 16 years old. That means if you get charged with a crime at 16 years old, it will be apart of your permanent record. In most states, a 16 year old committing a crime is considered to be a juvenile and will have their record sealed once they turn 18 years old. Sometime in September 2010, a police officer reported seeing Kalief crash a stolen bakery truck into a parked car. Kalief claimed he was not participating in this crime, but was “watching his friends partake in this activity.” Kalief pleaded guilty regardless of maintaining his innocence because he felt it wasn’t worth the trouble fighting against it, when he felt as if he didn’t have a plausible defense. I couldn’t find any information on exactly what happened here, and whether or not it was proven Kalief was behind the wheel of the stolen bakery truck, just a passenger, or in fact watching like he claimed. Regardless, at just 16 years old, he was charged with a 3rd degree felony; Grand larceny. He had the status of a “youthful offender” and was given 5 years probation.
8 months later, on May 15, 2010, Kalief, still 16 years old, was walking along Arthur Avenue with a friend leaving a party. They were just blocks away from Kalief’s mothers home, when they were stopped by multiple police cars for a “stop and frisk” routine. This is very disturbing to me. They have been stopped in the past many times before to be frisked, and thought nothing of it at the time until the police officers confronted them about responding to a 911 call from a Mexican immigrant named Roberto Bautista, stating that “two black guys took his brothers book bag.” Roberto (not his brother who could have possibly seen the suspect’s faces) was in the back of one of the police cars because it was suggested by police to ride around the area of the incident to see if they can I.D. the suspect’s. After Kalief is confronted by police with the accusation of robbery, he replied, “I did not rob anyone. You can search my pockets.” After failing to find any of items in question on the two teens, (backpack, camera, $700, 1 credit card and an Ipod touch) police inform Roberto that nothing was found on the pair. Roberto then claims he “remembers” them and they actually tried to rob HIM 2 weeks prior. Because of the “temporal difference” in the initial accusation, police hand cuffed both teens and took them to the precinct. In my opinion, this is when they should have released both teens due to conflicting information and NO EVIDENCE supporting either “STORY” this dumb Roberto Bautista fellow could come up with. The boys had nothing on them that ties them to either crime, and they had nothing whatsoever illegal on them for probable cause, which means reasonable grounds for making a search, arrest or pressing a charge. What follows after this, is what I find disturbing. I don’t know how this kind of behavior is allowed to happen everyday and nothing is changing to repair our justice system. I don’t understand how any police officer could take some random people, let alone two kids, off the street and charge them with no evidence supporting the two stories coming from a Mexican immigrant that barely speaks English. Let me remind you that Kalief’s story is not rare. It is happening to hundreds of people daily all across the country! I think I took such an interest to his story, as many others did once his documentary aired on Spike, because he shows his strength, pride, courage and belief that sharing his story, can shed light on what thousands of Americans are going through everyday.
After being held in a holding cell for hours, the pair was taken to Bronx County Criminal Court, and processed at central booking. 17 long hours after the encounter with police on Arthur Avenue, Kalief was then interrogated by an officer and a prosecutor where he continued to maintain his innocence. I looked up New York’s interrogation laws for a child 16, 17 and 18 year old, and found that it is not illegal to question youth without a parent or guardian present, but they do need to make “every reasonable effort to contact parent or guardian responsible for child’s care.” I do not know if Kalief’s mother was initially contacted prior to being questioned, but it seems like these officer’s were not playing by the books in the first place, so why start then? Kalief was charged with robbery, grand larceny and assault all in just 1 day after being processed and interrogated. When he saw the judge, she allowed his friend to return home for the “duration of the case,” and because of Kalief’s prior grand larceny charge and probation agreement, she ordered him to be held at Ryker’s Island for his case’s course, and set his bail for immediate release at $3,000. His mother, Venida did not have the money to make his bail. He was immediately transported to the R.N.D.C. unit at Ryker’s, which houses the 16-18 year old inmates. This unit among the 10 total units on the Island, is at high risk for extreme violence, where broken jaws, noses, shattered eye sockets, bone fractures and deep gashes requiring stitches is to be expected daily. Ryker’s Island has an average of 10,000 daily population inmates and about 85% have not been convicted of a crime, and are being held for pretrial, no means to pay their bail, or have been convicted and serving short sentences. Needless to say, there’s a lot of angry people flooding the units at Ryker’s Island, and they need to express their fury someway, somehow. Beating each other violently for no reason, is one of the way things are handled at Ryker’s Island. It has been said that most of the correctional officers have worked with the gang members inside Ryker’s and are paid to “look the other way,” or in fact get their hands dirty themselves. Literally… I have seen videos myself of officers slamming inmates face first on the concrete, shoving their heads into the wall, punching them in the face, I mean, the list goes on. Not to mention the severe mental trauma they cause to many inmates, but of course, I’m sharing Kalief’s story because it is truly heartbreaking, and I don’t know how the many officers responsible can wake up and look at themselves in the mirror, put their uniform on before going into work knowing their motto is to protect and serve their community, or even go home at night and embrace their children with a hug and kiss knowing what they’ve done to countless YOUTH being detained in their torture chamber. Kalief voiced some of the other conditions at Ryker’s, and it is stunning to read, but there are rats scurrying throughout the jail, droppings, human feces smeared on walls and floors, with the prison as old is it is the attempt to secure inmates from other inmates has proven to fail many times, (Kalief was jumped by a number of gang members because they kicked a steel door in to get to him, fight lasted around five minutes before two officers attempted to break it up) and inmates have to wash their dirty clothing in rusting metal buckets with a small bar of soap they use for personal hygiene. There is video evidence of an officer pinning Kalief against the wall while Kalief is handcuffed, and throwing him onto the floor and repeatedly kicking and punching him. Two officers saw what was happening and instead of running over to pull this enraged officer off of a handcuffed 17 year old, they joined in and began beating him as well. Kalief had absolutely no way to protect his head and curled into the fetal position. Seeing this video, I can tell you it was when I decided this young man needed his story to be heard, and I wanted to be apart of telling it somehow.
Kalief was provided with a public defender due to his families lack of financial resources to an attorney. In most states, it is not uncommon to have over 100 cases each to juggle around, and most likely will not review your case to prepare in front of the judge until exactly that, their sitting in front of the judge. Kalief’s case was pushed back numerous times due to the prosecution not being ready. During his case getting pushed back for months at a time, he was still stuck on Ryker’s Island, hoping that when his next court date came up, if it wasn’t pushed back again, he could convince just one judge out of the 8 that he had already seen, to listen to him and believe this inhumane punishment had gone on for too long. He was sent to solitary confinement time and time again for getting into other fights with inmates, correctional officers or guards. His longest solitary confinement stay was for 17 months and spent over 800 days broken up in solitary confinement for the 1,000 days he was at Ryker’s. Not only is solitary confinement a mental agony to endure for anyone to go through, but for a young man who’s brain is still developing, cutting him off from society, locking him in a room for 23 hours a day, where the only contact he has with the outside world is when a tray of food pops through his door slot, or an officer handcuffs him and leads him to the shower at the end of the day. Conflicting severe mental or physical pain is the definition of torture. After everything you have heard so far, wouldn’t you agree our justice system tortured this young man for 3 years of his childhood? And to think it’s still happening to many more, right this second. In the hands of the people who took an oath to protect and serve their community and the lives around them. The mental agony this young man endured, cause him to have 3 suicide attempts while imprisoned at Ryker’s Island. He tried to hang himself with a noose made out of bed sheets two times, the first he got scared and said “he had never tried to commit suicide before and was scared of dying.” the second time, two officers stand outside Kalief’s cell while watching him hesitating with the noose around his neck already, kept saying things like, “just jump, you might as well jump because we are coming in their already anyways, just jump,” and once Kalief jumps off the stool, cemented to the floor, jail footage shows the two guards rush into Kalief’s cell and Kalief later confirmed there was a struggle while the officers struggled to lift him up and slip the noose off his neck, and began beating him. Kalief, had one thought at the time. “Get into the hallway,” where he later confirmed the reason he wanted to be in the hallway, was so the officers would be recorded beating him. Once he was outside his cell, the video shows one officer gripping his shirt trying to pull him back into Kalief’s cell. The next time he would attempt suicide was when he came back from court, which was another pushed back court date and failed attempt to get in a word with the judge at the time. Kalief broke the rusted bucket they are given to keep in cells (I truly don’t know what the reasoning the bucket is used for..) and began slicing his wrists. He was hopeless, and he felt defeated and broken. An officer intervened and got Kalief medical attention.
Kalief’s new beginning:
Patricia DiMango, a Brooklyn judge was sent to the Bronx to tackle the flooding backlogged cases, saw Kalief Browder in her court room for the first time on March 13th, 2013. She offered him a guilty plea of two misdemeanor and the ability to go home immediately, due to the 16 months required to serve for the misdemeanor charges would have already been well over served with Kalief’s imprisonment. Kalief, being the strong, insistent, stubborn young man he was, still turned down the guilty admission plea. He stated, “I’m alright, I didn’t do it. I want to go to trial.” He was sent back to Ryker’s Island, feeling “crazy,” but hoping his consistent innocence would get through to somebody. It finally did, on May 29th, 2013, Judge DiMango said the district attorney was going to dismiss the charges, and would allow him to be released immediately until his trial court date the following the next week. In a important development, the prosecutor stated that Bautista fled the country and is believed to have returned to Mexico. Without the witness they were unable to meet the “burden of proof” fit for trial. Kalief was now a 20 year old young man, returning to his home and family in the Bronx. He became extremely paranoid and felt self conscious, he often paced back and fourth in his home and driveway, explained away by friends and family that he did this in solitary confinement and he would get used to being apart of the outside world again, and behave more like the Kalief they all once knew and loved. But what he went through mentally, could never be repaired, and he said “he was mentally scarred.” In November of 2013, a friend of Kalief’s observed his taking a steak knife to his wrists and stopped him, once trying to find Kalief’s mother, he then tried to hang himself from their banister. He was admitted into the psychiatric unit at the Bronx St. Barnabas Hospital, where upon leaving jail, he would return for a total of 3 times for failed suicide attempts. Things began to look up for the young man who was robbed of his childhood. He passed his G.E.D. exam, and enrolled in the Bronx Community College. He became part of the Universities New York Future Now program, which focuses on offering college education to previously incarcerated youth individuals.
Kalief and his brother Akeem were turned down looking into 11 attorneys who would want to take on their case against the New York criminal justice system, before a family member found Paul Prestia and suggested they try one more time. He agreed to take on their case, alleging the prosecution had misled the court by saying they would be ready for trial and in all reality, “they never were.” Because of the spotlight on the justice system, that Kalief believed he could help change, in January 2015, New York lawmakers voted to end solitary confinement for individuals under the age of 21. Kalief who was happy to see something being done about how unfairly he was treated, told his mother, “ma, I just can’t take it anymore,” one day before he decided this time, he wouldn’t fail at ending this pain once and for all. On June 6th, 2015, Kalief committed suicide and hanged himself out of his bedroom window in his mothers backyard. She was the one who found him, and on October 14, 2016 died herself of “heart complications,” but Paul Prestia said, “that in his opinion she literally died of a broken heart.” Kalief’s story continue to touch, outrage and inspire people all over the world. For me personally, I believe he was a one of a kind young man, he was a hero who anyone could look at and respect.