Like most horror stories, this one began innocently enough: A boy named Kalief, just shy of his seventeenth birthday, was walking home from a party in the wee hours of a Saturday morning with a friend. Maybe their mothers were worried sick, or maybe they had managed to sneak out of the house&or maybe summer vacation was coming soon enough—it was May, after all—and the warm weather had already cast its charm on kids and parents alike. Either way, they were teenagers, and school was waiting for a distant Monday. The weekend had begun.
And then, a police car pulled up. And then another. And then more. And then a spotlight, illuminating the two of them. An officer tells the two friends that they are wanted for a robbery. Kalief offers to have his pockets searched, knowing his innocence. But then, after they are searched and nothing is found, they are told the robbery occurred two weeks prior, and the two friends are placed in handcuffs and brought to the precinct.
The rest of this story has been told, both thoroughly and compassionately, by Jennifer Gonnerman, a staff writer at The New Yorker. What started as a misunderstanding, or perhaps, a misidentification, spiraled perilously for Kalief into three years of imprisonment at Rikers Island, what is known nationally as one of the worst jail complexes in the country. Kalief's friend, meanwhile, was set free while his case made its way through the judicial system. Kalief was held because he was on probation for a prior incident. "From the first moment the police approached [Kalief], he said he did nothing wrong," Gonnerman says.
Her original piece, "Before the Law," was published in the October 6th, 2014 issue of The New Yorker. "Kalief got out of jail in 2013, and he brought a lawsuit against New York City, suing the city, the police, the Defense Attorney, and the jail system after his release. His story got a bit of attention here in New York and I heard about it and wanted to meet him."
But after they met, Gonnerman realized this story was so much larger than what it initially appeared. "Once he got to Rikers, he was put into adolescent jail, which is a notorious place&at one point, one fourth of the teen boys were in solitary confinement. Violence was rampant."
Kalief told Gonnerman stories of his time in prison, describing beatings from both correction officers and inmates. "He tried his best to convey in words what he'd lived through," she says. But it wasn't until she saw surveillance footage of the brutality he endured that she realized what he went through was "truly beyond words"—visuals of guards throwing him down on the ground and striking him, of multiple inmates stomping on his face and kicking him repeatedly.
It took the justice system three years to finally hear his case, at which point prosecutors dismissed it. He had spent, by Gonnerman's account, "more than one thousand days on Rikers waiting for a trial that never happened." But that was a bittersweet victory: "He had been locked up for three years. For two of those years, he'd been in solitary confinement," Gonnerman explains. It was there, in that tiny cell, that the young man tried to take his own life more than once. "He missed out on so much—his junior year of high school, his senior year, the prom, graduation."
"Freedom" for Kalief meant readjusting to the world after years of isolation and trauma. Pursuing his GED was difficult because the large classrooms gave him anxiety. "He struggled every day to pursue his goals and quiet the demons he had to deal with," Gonnerman says. She went to visit him in the psychiatric ward of a hospital after a particularly troubling time. "He told me he'd never had any mental health problems before he was arrested."
But still, despite living in solitary and learning to survive in prison, Kalief emerged from Rikers with part of his spirit intact. "He was smart," Gonnerman says. "He could be funny, despite all he had gone through. You think he'd be angry and bitter after everything he endured, but the fact that he wasn't&I found really shocking."
Gonnerman's next installment of Kalief's story came unexpectedly this past Sunday. It is solemnly titled "Kalief Browder, 1993—2015." After fighting his demons and struggling daily to pursue his goals, his fight was over. On Saturday, he took his own life.
"All Kalief really wanted to do was be a normal 21-year-old&to go to college, figure out what he wanted to do with his life, get a job, move out of his mother's house and get his own place," Gonnerman says. "He was never able to do that. That's one of the most heartbreaking things about his story."
Following his suicide, the staff at Bronx Community College, where Kalief was enrolled, called upon a bereavement team to help students and faculty deal with the news. "Our hearts are broken today, for Kalief represented who we are as a college, a place where many people who are wounded by the vicissitudes of life eventually find their way," a statement reads. "We do save lives. But Kalief's death reminds us that we may not always be able to resolve the internal struggles that members of our community are facing."
"That's why we must try our hardest to ensure that we give the very best we have to offer with kindness and compassion."
- ^ Before the Law (www.newyorker.com)
- ^ Kalief Browder, 1993—2015 (www.newyorker.com)
- ^ here (www.newyorker.com)
- ^ here (www.newyorker.com)
- ^ What We Need to Understand About Freddie Gray and Baltimore (www.teenvogue.com)
- ^ Breakthrough in Baltimore: Freddie Gray's Death Is Ruled a Homicide (www.teenvogue.com)
- ^ Why #DespiteBeingAWoman Is Trending in India (www.teenvogue.com)
Source : http://www.teenvogue.com/my-life/2015-06/kalief-browder-rikers-the-new-yorker-article
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