Why Kalief Browder and the Central Park 5 are important

Kalief Browder- Billboard .jpg

As I watched and recapped When They See Us, someone told me to look at The Kalief Browder Story. It took me a little time to watch and do some research on Kalief Browder and his story. I was not at all familiar with it and wanted to have a good grasp on what happened. After learning about his story, I sat down and thought about how much it compared to When They See Us. The similarities and differences were tragic.

In both stories, the young men involved were taken into police custody and put in prison for crimes that evidence could not support their participation in. The young men involved in the Central Park assault case were convicted, but Kalief Browder was not. They were all teenage boys who should have been going to parties and hanging out with friends. They should have been laughing and enjoying their youth the way young people are supposed to. They should have been turning mistakes into learning experiences and growing into men. Instead, they were all forced to grow up too fast and their youth passed them by as they sat in prison cells.

They all lost something that could not be restored and had to figure out how they could fit back into society after their harrowing experiences. Of the three years that Kalief Browder spent at Rikers Island, two of those years were spent in solitary confinement. He’d requested to speak to a psychiatrist because he did not feel like himself anymore.

“You hallucinate. You talk to yourself. You count the springs on the bed. You count the cracks on the walls. You do everything in your power to occupy the time. And then at some point you run out of things to do. And when you run out of things to do, it’s like dying with your eyes open.” -Bernard Kerik, Former Commissioner, NYC Department of Corrections, Kalief Browder Story

Korey Wise had the same experience during his time in prison. He was also in solitary confinement for extended periods of time and it took a toll on his well-being. These experiences are extremely difficult for adults to go through, but I can’t imagine how much more difficult it is for a child.

Their time in prison made it difficult for them to connect with others. Kalief wanted to have fun and be successful, but he didn’t feel that he could make it. He felt that he was much older than he really was. These boys were forced to grow up too fast. They became activists for causes they may not have protested if these situations not happened. Perhaps Kalief Browder would still be here if it never happened. He attempted suicide more than once while he was incarcerated and continued struggling with depression after his release. Two years later, he passed. He had been broken.

These experiences did not belong to them alone. Everyone around them felt the impact of the situation. Their families tried to do everything they could for their boys, but they were not in a position to save them. Kalief’s mother, Venida, didn’t have enough money to pay his bail and by the time she got the money from a neighbor, his bail was denied and he was forced to stay. In an article by Kalief’s brother, Deion, he went into detail on how this ordeal impacted Venida.

“My mother blamed herself for Kalief’s detention because she couldn’t afford the $3,000 bail money. She cried herself to sleep every night while he was away, filled with guilt for not being able to help her child.”

Deion Browder

Kalief’s trial was continuously delayed. He was offered plea deals during this time, but he denied them all and chose to maintain his innocence. Every time they pushed back the trials, he unnecessarily suffered for a few more weeks or months.  Is it possible in the course of them dealing with case after case, they had deduced Kalief Browder to nothing but a name on a piece of paper?

“I just feel like I have a lot of demons walking with me  and it’s not from anything I did, but just stuff that I’ve seen and been through and it just won’t leave me. Every time I get time to myself, I think about those things and it just stresses me out.”

Kalief Browder

Situations like these are more common than people think. I did not grow up seeing this in my community, but there are people that see this every single day. I think these stories provide an opportunity for us to analyze these occurrences and figure out what can be done to prevent them.