The final installment of Spike TV’s six-part doc-useries, TIME: The Kalief Browder Story, tackled the aftermath of Kalief Browder’s untimely suicide. The 22-year-old met his demise after being incarcerated at Rikers Island for three years without trial for allegedly stealing a backpack. As a result of his mental struggles after his release from Rikers, many local and national legislative officials enacted laws to prevent a similar tragedy from happening.
New York City mayor Bill de Blasio recently said earlier this month that he has plans to shut down Rikers Island indefinitely. “It will take many years, it will take many tough decisions along the way,” said Mayor de Blasio in a press conference. “But it will happen.”
Even Jay Z, TIME‘s executive producer, took to Twitter to thank viewers following de Blasio’s announcement. “Kalief is a prophet. His story will save lives. You guys watching and your compassion made this happen. Thank you,” read the tweet.
Kalief is a prophet. His story will save lives . You guys watching and your compassion made this happen. Thank you . pic.twitter.com/Vvnt9tDBeR
— Mr. Carter (@S_C_) March 31, 2017
Although citizens are more aware of the horrors of the criminal justice system for black and brown men, there is still so much progress to be made. Here is the recap for the docuseries’ final episode.
Family And Friends React To Kalief’s Death
Kalief Browder’s family and friends were understandably distraught with the news of his suicide. Kalief’s friend David Saverino was told by Kalief to come hang out with him that afternoon, while Rosie O’Donnell, who befriended Kalief after his appearance on The View, said that he had texted her shortly before his death saying that he “needed time” to himself.
His siblings still recall the moments from the day Kalief took his own life. His brother Kamal called his next door neighbor to confirm Kalief was gone, after his mother called him on the phone frantic. His brother Deion said that “it just looked like he was sleeping,” while brother Raheem and sister Nicole tearily said that they wish they could have done more to help their brother.
Several events led up to his suicide. On June 10, Kalief was expected to show up for a court hearing for a new case. He was going to meet with the Bronx District Attorney, and developed a fear that he’d be sent back to Rikers. Venida Browder said that the day before her son’s suicide, he was checking his phone frequently, pacing back and forth in his room, and looking out the window.
“They warned me,” she said he told her on June 5, the day before his death.
Near the end of the documentary, family and friends are shown at Kalief’s final resting place on May 29, 2016, a day they called his “new birthday” after his release from Rikers on May 29, 2013 following a three-year stint.
After the emotional visit to the cemetery, family and friends gathered at Venida’s home to celebrate Kalief’s memory with a backyard barbecue. Deion said that they were commemorating “what he accomplished, and what he’s still accomplishing.”
In a clip from a previous interview, Kalief said that what he wanted most in his post-Rikers life was peace of mind for himself and his family.
In a heart-warming moment, Venida notes that she pays attention to the ivy growing above Kalief’s window at the house. The ivy only grows above his bedroom, and she sees it as a sign that her son is doing all right. “That’s his life right there, that’s how I look at it,” she said.
Many people around NYC began protesting after news of Kalief’s passing spread while national legislative enactments were put in place to ensure this tragedy wouldn’t happen again.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said that there is “just no reason” Kalief should have gone through the torture he endured, and he ruled that no 16- or 17-year-old could be put into solitary confinement in New York City. The lower level of the New York State Legislature also enacted “Kalief’s Law,” which states that the people must be ready for a trial to occur, not the courts, in order to ensure the right to a speedy trial.
In early 2016, President Barack Obama banned solitary confinement for minors, and also called for expanded treatment for the mentally ill and an increase for the amount of time people in solitary confinement could spend outside of their cells. “If those individuals are ultimately released, how are they ever going to adapt?,” said Obama.
Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson stepped down from his position after 22 years though he was unanimously selected as a judge for the N.Y. State supreme court. He was replaced by Darcel Clark, who was one of the nine judges who presided over Kalief’s robbery case. She delayed his case seven times over the course of 322 days.
Norman Seabrook, who was the president of the city’s correction-officers union and often accused of corruption, was arrested for funneling an alleged $60,000 in union pension funds into a hedge fund. He said many times before his arrest that corrections officers were “not to blame” for Kalief Browder’s death. During a town hall meeting for the National Action Network, a protestor told Seabrook that he is the “biggest crook and criminal in New York City,” and that he was responsible for Browder’s death.
As Jay Z said in the documentary, Kalief’s passing taught many about the issues plaguing the criminal justice system, and inspired those people to try and incite change. “This young man will affect change in the way that we can’t see now,” he said. “It still takes tragedy for us to learn.”
A Mother’s Strength
The most painful feeling for a mother is to lose her child, but Venida Browder made sure to stay strong for Kalief and to keep his memory alive. She worked with Jay Z for the national campaign Stop Solitary For Kids, and also made appearances around the city discussing the injustice of Kalief’s final years and the failures of the criminal justice system.
“Justice failed him, but he still believed in justice,” she said. “It’s a whole system that destroyed my son, and I want them all to pay.”
Venida also kept Kalief’s college, Bronx Community, close to her heart. The Kalief Browder Memorial Scholarship Fund was created to benefit a formerly incarcerated student who attends BCC, in order to help them with their schooling.
“People care because they see I care,” she explained of her activism. “I’m not letting it fade away, that’s my responsibility, and I’m gonna keep it up.”
Venida’s Failing Health
Despite being strong-willed, Venida’s heart continued to fail. In the first few months after Kalief’s death, Venida was starting to lose the will to take care of her own health. She said she stopped taking her medication for her congestive heart failure, and “didn’t care if [she] lived or died.”
She did eventually begin to take her medication again, however, her heart condition worsened. She had three stents in her heart, and refused open heart surgery. In 2016, things started to take a turn for the worse. Her heart would pump at 25 percent, and a doctor told her that at the time, it went down to 19 percent due to a possible blockage. Not only was her heart failing, but the civil case against the city was continually delayed, causing more stress.
In October 2016, she had to be rushed to Saint Barnabas Hospital. Kamal had performed CPR, but she was not breathing. Video footage shows her children and family frantic in the hospital, while doctors attempted to work on her. She passed away on Oct. 14, 2016.
Her children said that what happened to Kalief “threw her over the edge,” and they wanted to see her fight for him and his legacy, because “she wanted to see Kalief’s story get finished.”
“The system slowly but surely caused [Kalief’s] death, and that’s what’s happening to me,” she said in an interview.
Kalief’s Father Returns
Prestia filed a wrongful death suit after Kalief’s passing. Venida sued New York City for $20 million on behalf of Kalief’s estate. However, there was a major roadblock in getting justice for her son. Eddie Browder, Kalief’s absentee father, pursued a claim of his own to Kalief’s estate. Eddie hired Sanford Rubenstein, a lawyer who was infamously let off without charges in a rape case, to represent his half of Kalief’s estate in the wrongful death suit.
Nicole Browder said that Kalief’s father and mother are still technically married, even though they have been living separately for many years. “Once he left my mom, he wasn’t part of Kalief’s life at all,” she said. “This whole time, he thought he did it [stealing the backpack].” She also said that he could have helped Kalief with the $900 bail bond, but refused to help his son.
“If Kalief were alive, Eddie wouldn’t get a dime,” said Venida. “It’s not fair to Kalief, and it’s not fair to me.”
Eddie also had plans to sell the house as a “tactic” to keep the money to himself. After Venida died, he became the sole administrator of Kalief’s estate. Not only did he sell the house three days after her death, but Eddie also removed Paul Prestia from the civil suit against the city. As of April 2017, the family intends to contest his administrator-ship.
“We have to pick up the pieces,” said Nicole of Eddie’s re-emergence into their lives. She and her siblings are remaining optimistic.
“My mom would want us to stay family,” said Akeem.
A Long Way To Go
As viewers have seen with the changing political climate, the criminal justice system still has a long way to go. From the 1955 case of Emmett Till to the 2014 case of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, issues concerning justice for blacks and browns have continued for many years.
What it comes down to is citizens staying well-informed of incidents in the criminal justice system while taking proper and peaceful steps to incite positive social change in others. “We have a moment in time that we can’t let pass,” said former Attorney General Eric Holder of the advantages society has when it comes to staying well-informed.
“The fact that this story has reached so many will hopefully… make people shake off their deliberate indifference,” said author Michelle Alexander about Kalief’s case, and how its importance has reached many people.
“Take a good look at Kalief Browder. There is a window that’s open right now to move both racial justice and criminal justice in the right direction,” added the director of the ACLU’s Center For Justice, Jeff Robinson, about the significance of Kalief’s tragedy. “You’ve got to make people squirm before they can do anything about it.”