Kalief Browder, the Bronx man who spent more than three years awaiting trial on Rikers Island for a crime he did not commit, took his own life on Saturday, after struggling for years with depression and anxiety stemming from his time in custody.
Browder was only 16 years old in May of 2010 when he was arrested in the Bronx with a friend as they walked home from a party. Police said a man claimed the two teens robbed him. When police found that the boys had no stolen property on their persons, the police claimed the incident took place two weeks prior.
Browder was charged with robbery, grand larceny and assault. Because he was on probation for a previous offense, his bail was set at $3,000. His family was unable to pay and he was sent to Rikers Island.
Browder’s trial was postponed over and over again as prosecutors repeatedly requested more time. In early 2012, Browder was offered a plea deal, which he refused. According to the
, he wanted the chance to declare his innocence in court and fight the bogus charges against him.
Browder spent more and more time in solitary after scuffling with other inmates and corrections officers. His brother told the
that he slowly began to lose hope. He attempted suicide for the first time on February 8, 2012. He was briefly sent to a clinic but put back in solitary upon his return. A few weeks later, after prosecutors again postponed his trial, Browder attempted suicide a second time.
In March of 2013, Browder went before a new judge. She offered him a tempting plea deal which would allow him to be released the same day. Browder refused. At his next court appearance, the judge announced that the case would be dismissed, since prosecutors had lost contact with the alleged victim. He was released the following day.
Adjusting to the outside world was tough for Browder. He found it difficult to be around people and felt inadequate compared to his friends who had since gone to college and found employment.
Six months after his release, Browder again attempted suicide.
“Being home is way better than being in jail,” Browder told the
shortly after his release from a psychiatric ward following the attempt. “But in my mind right now I feel like I’m still in jail, because I’m still feeling the side effects from what happened in there.”
Former Brooklyn prosecutor Paul V. Prestia helped Browder file a lawsuit against the city alleging “malicious prosecution,” but Browder told the
that even a hefty settlement wouldn’t help his state of mind.
In April, the
obtained surveillance footage of an officer assaulting Browder and a group of inmates pummeling and kicking him. He allowed the footage to be published on the magazine’s website. According to the article, Browder wanted the public to know what he had endured at Rikers, so that change would be effected.
The outrage sparked by Browder’s case and the news of his death spurred Mayor Bill de Blasio to announce Monday that reforms of the bail system and of conditions at Rikers Island are underway.
“Once his story became public, it caused a lot of people to act and a lot of the changes we’re making at Rikers Island right now are the result of the example of Kalief Browder,” De Blasio told the
New York Observer
. “So I wish, I deeply wish, we hadn’t lost him—but he did not die in vain.”
To draw attention to Browder’s case and death, Moveon.org has created petition calling on New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, to work to end cash bail in his state. Moveon.org has also issued a press release to raise the profile of the petition. A copy of the release can be found here. Check out the petition here:
Move On petition