Kalief Browder Must Not Die in Vain
Kalief Browder certainly did not deserve to die via suicide at his parents’ house in the Bronx. He did not deserve multiple trips into solitary confinement for 23 hours per day, including a seventeen month stint because of fights at Riker’s Island, a jail which has a known culture of violence between inmates as well as officers toward prisoners, according to the U.S. District Attorney’s report.
Kalief did not deserve to be jailed for three years simply because he refused to plead guilty to a crime he didn’t commit, and his mother lacked the resources to pay his bail. This was a case where the person who accused Browder of stealing his backpack kept changing the dates of the incident when telling prosecutors, and had literally no evidence beyond his word to support his claim that Kalief stole his backpack. Browder did not deserve to spend almost one thousand days in Rikers before he case was finally dismissed without a trial by the underfunded, backlogged Bronx Criminal Courts.
This is an unspeakable American tragedy, but it’s not a unique case. It’s not some crazy example of the system failing one person and destroying their life to the point where suicide was their only option. These incidents happen EVERY SINGLE DAY. Just this weekend, police were called to a pool party in McKinney, Texas, because there were “outsiders” who weren’t invited. When the cops arrived, one of them attacked and arrested the black teenagers, even as they were quietly talking to the other officer and calling him “sir”. He even pulled his gun on two of the adolescents as they were running away. Naturally, the white partygoers were left alone, even though the white parents actually started the fight by yelling racial epithets at the children. In the below video, one of the parents assisted the officer in manhandling the children:
Last night, the Los Angeles Police Department ruled that the officer who killed Ezell Ford late last year, was acting “out of policy”. Ford was a mentally ill man, and it was well known in the community that he suffered from depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. The LAPD claimed that Ford reached for the guns of Officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas, but other witnesses said that Ezell Ford had his hands up, just like Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
These incidents of the past week are burned into our collective memories, and we can clearly see the trend. The system isn’t broken, it is working exactly the way it was designed. The time for half-measures is over. Forget about reforms, we need to end solitary confinement in the United States, as over 80,000 prisoners are in isolated cells at any given time. 51% of the federal prison population are guilty of nonviolent drug offenses, clogging up the prisons as well as the judicial system. We need to decriminalize these nonviolent offenses and destroy the prison-industrial complex, because imprisoning our fellow human beings and robbing them of their humanity CANNOT be a business.
Ending this exploitation will take more than voting for progressive politicians. Millions of people have had their lives destroyed by solitary confinement, mass incarceration and systemic racism, in a process which has been occurring for decades, even longer if you consider how these systems are just an adaptation of Jim Crow Laws and slavery. If these lawmakers actually represented our interests like they claimed, they would have introduced legislation to end this practice years ago, rather than piecemeal reforms which fail our entire society.
Kaleif Browder is one martyr of way too many. We cannot wait. We need to call out those who stand in silence as perpetrators of violence, as guilty as the judicial system which drove Browder to suicide. This anger we feel must be channeled into disrupting the system until there are no more Kalief Browders. No more Eric Garners. No more Tamir Rices. No more Rekia Boyds.
If necessary, we must resist until there is no system left.