Wednesday night, I watched the first installment in the Spike TV docuseries Time: The Kalief Browder Story. I was familiar with his story before watching Time or even before Kalief’s face crossed my screen in Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th. At the age of 16, Kalief was taken from his family, friends, and school and sent to Rikers Island. His crime was allegedly stealing a backpack at some point prior to the night of his arrest. Maintaining his innocence throughout the entire ordeal, Kalief was failed by the system at every step of the way.
“When they sent me to Rikers Island I was 16…It was like hell on earth.” – #KaliefBrowder
— SPIKE (@spike) March 2, 2017
The actual robbery allegation was shaky, with the witness changing his story and little to no follow up by the cops. The Bronx District Attorney strung out a case with no evidence and a barely credible witness for three years. At no step in the process did any of these actors consider the toll of incarceration on Kalief. None of these people were concerned with his innocence. All that time passed, and Kalief suffered in Rikers. For three years Kalief was robbed of opportunity, youth, and freedom. Rikers has a reputation as a breeding ground for violence and abuse. Grown folks are broken in Rikers. It is not a place for anyone, let alone youth like Kalief.
Even though I knew Kalief’s story, watching this first installment of Time, I fought back tears and anger. As a mother, sister, cousin, and aunt a pit formed in my stomach. There are many Kaliefs and there are many places like Rikers where systemic abuses abound. We have a system that is overburdened with few advocates to go around. We have a system that is built to contain and constrain black and brown bodies, without any concern for humanity and dignity. I’m not interested in discussing random hypotheticals in extreme scenarios. We have to address the facts of not only youth being thrown into places like Rikers but also the way the poor are treated as criminals with little regard to their innocence. Innocent until proven guilty is a luxury not afforded to many stuck in the system. For those jailed due to inability to pay bail, innocence is an afterthought.
The chips are stacked against the poor, particularly those of color, at many junctures of the criminal justice system. As demonstrated by Kalief’s story, the intersection of race and class further compounds the problem for many. The current administration, state, and local law enforcement agencies are focusing on filling cells. Increasing penalties for alleged criminal activity does little to address the underlying issues in our communities. Failing to address persisting issues of police targeting and harassment, as well as the failure across the criminal justice system, perpetuate a system full of Kaliefs. Our youth need education, after school activities, and jobs. They need opportunities, not more bars.
This is supposed to be the greatest city in the world. We are supposed to trust the justice system where is the justice? – Vernida Browder, Kalief’s mother
Through Kalief’s story of wrongful imprisonment, we get a glimpse into the horror that faces many people daily. Kalief Browder’s story did not end once he was released from Rikers. The torture and abuse he endured during three years at Rikers Island changed him forever. For many, Kalief’s story is an eye opener. Truth, justice, and equality are supposedly the American way. At least that is what certain people are taught. The first installment of the Kalief Browder’s story gives a brief glimpse into the structural inequities that exist in poor Black and Brown communities.
The ghost of Kalief Browder can be seen in the eyes of the living of those who survived and grapple to rebuild their lives after encountering our prison industrial complex.
You see them everyday. I know I do. Some of them you actually know. These are men and women of all ages who have had something inside them broken. They are persecuted daily and have lost hope on a society that has given up on them and deemed them as being unredeemable with the tag of a convicted felon.
While their stories may not have the same outcome as Kalief’s, it is equally tragic and we are ALL culpable in what amounts to a crime against humanity. However, we CAN make amends. We cannot go on this way. – Stacey Hopkins, Organizer
I encourage people to watch this docuseries with two things in mind. First be open to learning more, no matter how uncomfortable, about the problems within our criminal justice system. Efforts like Raise the Age and Transformative Bail Reform are ongoing and need support. Collectives efforts like the fight to Shut Down Rikers work to dismantle the Prison Industrial Complex, not replace it with newer facilities. There are also Community Bail Funds forming across the country. Bail funds are not the answer, but these efforts provide a way to help alleviate the burden.
Second, it is not enough to simply #Resist 45. It is not enough to build a new party with a “progressive platform.” We need action. We need people working with the collectives, organizations, and communities tackling these tough issues across the country. We have to dig in and work across efforts to dismantle the systemic racism and injustice that reinforce this entire system we call America.
Reform suggests the system is broken and needs to work. We must accept that the system is working as designed and needs to be broken. MLH https://t.co/g87GYufzDx
— SPIKE (@spike) March 2, 2017
Kalief was three years older than my son when he was stolen from his family. He was only a year older than my daughter. He should be enjoying life and the ability to achieve his dreams. His family should not be mourning. There are many Kaliefs in the system. It is our job to help them get free.