Kalief Browder We can’t forget his torment at Rikers Island

Exactly a week from today, I will get to celebrate my 23rd birthday.

Exactly a year ago today, 22-year-old Kalief Browder committed suicide, two years after he was released from Rikers Island, where he served a three-year jail sentence for a crime he was never convicted of committing. Browder would’ve should’ve celebrated turned 23, this year, too, his birthday 19 days before mine.

Instead, today, we must remember Browder as another young black man whose life ended too soon — another representation that the criminal justice system needs to change. But Browder’s case is a little different. He took his own life, in one sense making it out of the justice system, though his struggles with mental health proved he never made it out fully.

Browder committed suicide after he was released from jail, at his home in the Bronx. At the age of 16, he was arrested for stealing a backpack and awaited trial at Rikers Island for three years, two of which he spent in solitary confinement where he reportedly attempted to commit suicide several times. After his release in June 2013, he enrolled at Bronx Community College, back on the path he likely envisioned for himself before his wrongful imprisonment. The lasting effect of the system’s shortcomings resulted in Browder’s post-jail paranoia and delusions, and ultimately to his decision to end his life.

In a February editorial, The New York Times called for the reform of New York City’s criminal justice system, beginning with the refinement — and perhaps elimination — of Rikers Island itself.

“As for the island, it should be given back to the sea gulls, or used for affordable housing, or an extension of La Guardia Airport, or any number of other conceivable, nontoxic purposes,” the editorial reads. “And once the poison is removed, the city could rename it Browder’s Island, for young Kalief, whose suffering there has come to symbolize all that went so horribly wrong there for so many years.”

Rikers Island renamed in honored of Kalief Browder? I’m not sure we’ll ever get a chance see this happen. Just like Browder never got to see his 23rd birthday.

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