Kalief Browder, a young man from New York City who had gained national renown in recent years as a symbol of America’s broken criminal justice system, took his own life this weekend, according to a report from The New Yorker. He was 22.
Browder was just 16 years old in 2010 when he was sent to New York’s notorious Rikers Island jail on a robbery charge that would ultimately be dismissed. He ended up spending three years at the facility, despite not having been convicted of a crime. When he wasn’t in solitary confinement — where he spent an accumulated two years — he faced unspeakable violence at the hands of guards and fellow inmates.
His long, tortuous ordeal — as documented last year in a widely read New Yorker article by Jennifer Gonnerman — came to a tragic end Saturday. Gonnerman reported that Browder hanged himself with an air conditioning cord at his family’s home in the Bronx, New York. She told The Huffington Post Monday that Browder’s family was in a “state of shock.”
“They were angry and confused about why Kalief was gone,” she said.
Gonnerman, who’d spent a great deal of time with Browder, remembered him as an “intelligent, perceptive young man who was trying to do the right thing. All he wanted to do was have a normal life… but he never really got that chance.”
What happened to Browder and his family, said Gonnerman, is an “American tragedy almost beyond words.”
In a New Yorker piece announcing Browder’s death, Gonnerman noted that Browder’s lawyer, Paul Prestia, had told Browder’s family that “this case is bigger than Michael Brown” — a reference to the unarmed black teen fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer. Brown’s death set off massive protests across the country.
“When you go over the three years that [Browder] spent [in jail] and all the horrific details he endured, it’s unbelievable that this could happen to a teen-ager in New York City,” Prestia said hours after Browder’s death, according to The New Yorker. “He didn’t get tortured in some prison camp in another country. It was right here!”
When reached for comment Monday, the New York City Department of Correction said it would release a statement on Browder’s death later that day.
Click here for full post.