Kalief Browder spent three years on Rikers Island without a trial because he was accused of stealing a backpack. After news reports gained him popularity, he became well known. Celebrities like Jay-Z and Rosie O’Donnell were interested in his success and wanted to meet him. Sadly, in 2015, he committed suicide. Jay-Z publicly denounced Rikers Island and blamed officers and other supervision there for Browder’s death. Before Browder committed suicide, O’Donnell had him on The View to discuss his time on the Island and to talk about his achievements. He was a student at Bronx Community College at the time of his death.
People used his death as a way to highlight the broken criminal justice system here in the city and to also put the blame on officers and other personnel at Rikers Island. Most of the backlash came from people wanting to close Rikers Island jail down.
A video surfaced from Rikers that showed Browder being knocked to the ground by an officer and also being attacked by fellow inmates. When that video came out, more people were rallying together to start the Close Rikers movement all across the city, state and the nation. Glenn E. Martin, founder and president of JustLeadershipUSA, is one of the biggest proponents of the Close Rikers campaign. He spent a couple of months at Rikers Island back in the 1990s. Parents, former inmates, criminal justice advocates and other people started to rally with the Close Rikers team.
Rikers Island, however, is not the reason for this man’s death. The Bronx District Attorney’s office, is. Darcel Clark is the acting Bronx District Attorney and she has come under fire a lot. Not only for how she handled the Browder case, but most recently a case where two teenage boys cut off a cab drivers thumb. The two boys wanted to rob a couple of passengers and when the driver came to their defense, they cut his finger off. Bronx courts let both of them go and they were bragging on Facebook. Evidently, there is a discipline and court problem in the Bronx.
I watched an appearance of Clark on “Inside City Hall” with Errol Louis one night and every time he asked her a question about her decision to keep sending Browder back to jail, even after the plaintiff left the country and could no longer testify against him, she either had no comment or she stumbled on her words. How do you not have anything to say about something that significantly altered a family’s life? A young man killed himself because he was sent back to jail on multiple occasions and didn’t have affair trial. He was in solitary confinement for the majority of his three years at Rikers and that caused a lot of mental issues within himself.
Rikers was the least of Browder’s problems, however. Browder didn’t have the best life growing up. His mother was addicted to drugs and he had to be put in Child Protective Services at birth. He spent all of his life with his adoptive mother, who was an experience foster mom, having raised over 30 children in her lifetime.
Browder had been no stranger to the law before he was sent to Rikers in 2010. Eight months before he was arrested for stealing the backpack, he was charged with third-degree grand larceny. He stole a bakery truck and ran it into another car while joyriding.
These are behaviors of someone who was bound to be in trouble, whether Rikers was involved or not.
My mom, Dee, was a correction officer at Rikers for almost 24 years, before she retired back in 2014. As an officer she’s gone to work to ensure the safety of inmates, herself and other fellow officers.
“In my 23 years of being a CO, I’ve seen everything and I’ve had to ring alarms for my supervisors to come,” said Dee. “It’s about keeping everyone safe, none of us wanted this to happen.”
On a phone call with the former commissioner of the NYC Department of Corrections, Martin Horn, said no officer comes to work just to mess around with inmates.
“These officers come to work every night, morning or afternoon to do their jobs,” Horn said. They don’t just say I’m going to screw around with some inmates today.”
That’s what a lot of people don’t understand. An officer’s job is to protect everyone in their housing unit, themselves and their fellow officers. So when someone like Kalief Browder comes there and he’s picking fights with other inmates and they turn around and jump him, of course the officer is going to intervene with a use of force. A use of force is usually the last resort an officer takes because it is frowned upon, by supervision, to use it.
When Browder was finally released it made the news and a couple of shows wanted him on to speak about his experience at Rikers. He was on The View talking to Rosie O’Donnell about his experience at Rikers Island. You can tell in the interview that he wasn’t very comfortable being on television. It was almost as if he felt so much pressure. Pressure to be great, pressure to beat the odds and pressure to live up to everyone’s standards.
Before he passed away, Rosie O’Donnell wrote him a poem. The poem explained that she loved him and she was proud of the man he was becoming. Shortly after that, he committed suicide.
Imagine having that pressure on you. Having the whole world watching you and rooting for you after such a traumatic experience. You don’t want to mess up because you’ll either let everyone down or you’ll find yourself back in jail, maybe that’s why he killed himself.