This Monday is off to a grim start. Kalief Browder, a 22-year-old man who famously served three years at one of the country’s most notorious prisons without a conviction, has committed suicide. Browder was discovered by his mother in the back of their Bronx home, hanging from his bedroom window by an air conditioner cord.
In 2010, Browder was arrested while walking home after a party at the age of 16. Police had charged him with a robbery he insisted he didn’t commit. The city stalled to bring Browder to court for the crime, and instead held him at Rikers Island. After 33 months of being detained, the city offered Browder a plea deal but the young man still refused to admit to committing the crime. Eventually, Browder’s charges were dropped and Browder’s attorney, Paul V. Prestia filed a lawsuit against the city on his behalf. In an interview at Huffington Post Live with Marc Lamont Hill, Browder said:
“I knew deep down in my heart that I didn’t do it…I felt like I was done wrong. Something needed to be said…I felt like I had to fight. “[I] feel like this has got to stop. There’s a lot of people that are in there for stuff that they didn’t do…A lot of people aren’t strong, so they would take the plea deal for something that they didn’t do and it happens everyday.”
Browder suffered immense trauma while in prison and attempted suicide numerous times while at Rikers Island and afterwards. In April, The New Yorker obtained footage of Browder being brutally attacked by corrections officers and other inmates in 2010 and 2012. Browder was put into solitary confinement after he was jumped; police claimed that they were the ones being attacked by the teenager. Browder was also frequently starved, one time being starved for four meals in a row. While in prison, Browder said he was “petrified.”
Browder told his corrections officers that he needed assistance with his mental health amidst his suicide attempts, but they rarely intervened as necessary. Instead, the teenager was punished for trying to kill himself. After Browder attempted suicide in his prison cell using his bedsheets, corrections officers attacked Browder again, then took his belongings and continued to refuse him meals.
Browder’s story caught the attention of A-list public figures like Rand Paul, Bill d Blasio, Rosie O’Donnell and Jay Z, who were invested in prison reform and in helping Browder get back on track with his health and education. However, despite the attention and support that could be mustered up on Browder’s behalf, Browder’s wellness seesawed. Browder spent time in and out of Harlem Hospital and St. Barnabas’ psych wards, as well as his classes at Bronx Community College.
Wracked with grief, Prestia’s lawyer is quoted as saying:
“This case is bigger than Michael Brown!…When you go over the three years that he spent [in jail] and all the horrific details he endured, it’s unbelievable that this could happen to a teen-ager in New York City. He didn’t get tortured in some prison camp in another country. It was right here!”
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