Saturday, June 13, 2015

While You Were Sleeping: Kalief Browder Suicide

Last week 23 year old Kalief Browder of New York committed suicide after mental issues caused by his time spent in solitary confinement. Honestly, I had never heard of this guy or his story. I'd heard some like it but not his in particular. When he was 16 years old he was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack. He never stood trial and was never found guilty but he was sent to Rikers Island for three years. His family could not afford the $10,000 in bail (some say it was $3,000) so he stayed in prison for three years.

He was beaten by the police, other inmates and while there (which there was footage of) Browder spent over 400 days in solitary confinement. He tried to kill himself a few times while there.In 2014 Mayor Bill de Blasio used Browder's case as an example of the broken system and declared that they would clear backlogs in courts and reduce the amount of inmates. After being released Browder earned his GED and started going to community college but still had trouble living a normal life.

“People tell me because I have this case against the city I'm all right. But I'm not all right. I'm messed up. I know that I might see some money from this case, but that's not going to help me mentally. I'm mentally scarred right now. That's how I feel. Because there are certain things that changed about me and they might not go back” he said in an interview. That doesn't sound close to hard to believe when you know he spent 23 hours a day in solitary.

Browder refused to cop a plea deal that would have gotten out fast because he was innocent. Its hard to deny the innocence of someone who says they are and refuses to plead guilty to stealing a backpack and instead spends years in one of the worst prisons in the country. Late last year he started having mental problems and was placed in psychiatric hold in Harlem and had thrown out his TV because he was afraid it was watching him.

Last Saturday Browder pushed the AC unit out of the window at his parents house, wrapped a cord around his neck, and got out of the window hanging himself. His mother heard the noise from the AC and when she went outside saw that he had hung himself. Mayor de Blasio said after Browder's death “I think his case was an eye-opener to New Yorkers across the board. There's just no reason that someone should be held for a long period of time if they can't pay bail and we can help, a modest bail level like that.” He also added “Once his story became public, it caused a lot of people to act and a lot of the changes we're making at Rikers Island right now are the result of the example of Kalief Browder. So I wish, I deeply wish, we hadn't lost him but he did not die in vain.”

I'm sure his family feels the same way. Why was bail set so high? Unless there were diamonds in that backpack or this was his fifth offense it makes no sense. Why was nothing done about the fact that he was attacked by guards and inmates? How was he suddenly released after so much time? I have so many questions for this because its not like some stories where someone who did some petty crimes got busted and lost in the system. This poor kid was accused of something and got the treatment that cop killers get.

Click here for previous While You Were Sleeping.  

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