Kalief Browder

Kalief Browder
Kalief Browder
Photo by Zach Gross, used with permission

Kalief Browder grew up in the Bronx and was the youngest of seven siblings. He was 16 years old in 2010 when he was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack. At the time of arrest, the police did not find a backpack on Kalief, but he and his friend (allegedly) matched the description of suspects in a reported theft. He was taken to the police station, fingerprinted and eventually charged with robbery, grand larceny and assault. His friend was allowed to go home.

Kalief refused to take a plea deal, insisting on his innocence and lack of evidence. He spent three years at the Rikers Island jail complex awaiting a trial. His family was not allowed to post his bail. He spent the equivalent of two years in solitary confinement and was beaten by prison guards multiple times. Kalief attempted to end his life several times in solitary confinement.

The unfounded charges against Kalief were ultimately dropped, and he was released. Shortly after, he tried to move on with his life. He passed the GED examination, enrolled in Bronx Community College and finished his fall semester with a 3.562 GPA.

Unfortunately, a crushing depression set in and Kalief attempted suicide again. He was taken to the psychiatric ward at St. Barnabas Hospital to receive help. Upon his release from St. Barnabas, an anonymous donor offered to pay his tuition for the upcoming semester at Bronx Community College. Kalief was energized to re-enroll and seemed to thrive for the next few months.

Kalief’s story was getting more attention in the media and from celebrities and politicians. He agreed to speak out and share the horrific footage from the jail’s surveillance cameras in an effort to save others from the depth of suffering and pain he experienced.

However, on June 6, 2015, that pain again proved too much for Kalief to carry, and he ended his life, after an iniquitous system murdered his soul.

Kalief’s mother became a vocal advocate of prison reform, but sadly succumbed to a heart attack a year after her son’s passing. In 2019, New York City settled a civil suit with Kalief Browder’s family for $3.3 million.