Injustice in the Name of Justice: Kalief & Venida Browder

No reasonable person possessing even a modest level of compassion may view the stories of Kalief and Venida Browder without experiencing a sense of horror and revulsion. At the age of 16, Kalief Browder was arrested on suspicion of stealing a backpack. A backpack. He was sent to Rikers Island. Throughout his incarceration, Kalief maintained his innocence, refusing to plead guilty to a crime he did not commit. As his family could not afford $3,000 bail, he remained locked away for over 3 years. His trial dates were postponed again and again and again. He spent over 800 days in isolation–over a backpack.

Finally, in 2013 the charges against Kalief Browder were dismissed due to a lack of evidence. Having spent three years in prison and most of that in isolation for an offense he didn’t commit, Kalief struggled following his release. One can only imagine the anguish and the debilitating psychological impacts that were wrought upon this young man. In 2015, Kalief’s struggle ended when he took his own life. It is no exaggeration to assert that our perverse and very broken criminal justice system are wholly responsible for the death of this young man. From start to finish, the system failed.

A Young Life Cut Short and a Mother, Venida Browder, Dies of Grief

As if this story weren’t bad enough in and of itself, the death of Kalief Browder led to a second death in the family–that of his mother, Venida. Following her son’s suicide, Venida Browder slipped into despair. She died this week of what those around her aver was a broken heart. She simply gave up. Venida was 63 years of age.

After she found her son’s body hanging from the side of her residence, she had vowed to fight for criminal justice reform. As recently as last week she had testified on ending solitary confinement for people age 16–21 in New York. Nevertheless, her son’s early suicide had taken its toll. Any parent should be able to read her story and understand.

Six Part Docu-Series by Jay-Z Will Tell Kalief’s story

Hip-Hop artist Jay-Z has produced a documentary series in six parts that will tell Kalief Browder’s story. People from all over the United States have expressed incredulity and anger over the treatment and fate of this young man. The demise of his mother doubles down on both sentiments.

Our criminal justice systems, at every point along the continuum, are in urgent need of meaningful reform. As anyone who works in proximity to our criminal justice systems knows, it is not rare for people to spend months or even years waiting for their day in court even for minor offenses. Most people of modest economic means cannot afford to post bail. Over-zealous prosecutors who place conviction rates and careers over the fair administration of justice and correctional institutions which house the incarcerated as if they were chattel are all in need of reform.

Mother of Kalief Browder, held in solitary confinement for years at Rikers Island, dies

Venida Browder discovered her son’s body hanging from the side of their home. From that moment on, she vowed to fight for criminal justice reform. Mother of Kalief Browder, held in solitary confinement for years at Rikers Island, dies