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Two Years After Kalief Browder’s Suicide, His Brother Recounts Horrifying Ordeal at Rikers

Web ExclusiveJune 06, 2017
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Today marks two years since Kalief Browder took his own life in 2015 at the age of 22, after being held in jail for nearly three years without trial for a crime he did not commit.

In November, we spoke with Akeem Browder, Kalief’s older brother. He is the founder of the Campaign to Shut Down Rikers. Today we share a second part of his interview that has never been broadcast before. We spoke with him shortly after his family held a memorial service for Venida Browder, who died “of a broken heart” 16 months after her son hanged himself in his Bronx home.

Kalief was just 16 years old in 2010 when he was sent to Rikers Island jail in New York City on suspicion of stealing a backpack. He always maintained his innocence and demanded a trial. Instead, he spent the next nearly three years at Rikers—nearly 800 days of that time in solitary confinement. Near the end of his time in jail, the judge offered to sentence him to time served if he entered a guilty plea, and told him he could face 15 years in prison if he went to trial and was convicted. Kalief still refused to accept the plea deal. He was only released when the case was dismissed. While in Rikers, Kalief was repeatedly assaulted by guards and other prisoners. His brother explains in this interview that he was repeatedly denied food by guards while he was in solitary confinement.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our coverage of the Rikers Island jail. In October, a memorial service was held for Venida Browder, who died, as her family said, “of a broken heart” 16 months after her own son, Kalief, hanged himself in his Bronx home, after spending nearly three years at New York’s Rikers Island jail. In 2010, when Kalief was just 16, he was sent to Rikers Island, without trial, on suspicion of stealing a backpack. He always maintained his innocence and demanded a trial. He spent the next nearly three years at Rikers, even though he was never tried or convicted. For nearly 800 days of that time, he was held in solitary confinement. Near the end of his jail time, the judge offered to sentence him to time served if he simply entered a guilty plea. He told him he could face 15 years in prison if he went to trial and was convicted. But Kalief was insistent. He still refused to accept the plea deal. He was only released when the case was dismissed.

While at Rikers, Kalief was repeatedly assaulted by guards and other prisoners. He also told Huffington Post Live he was repeatedly denied food by guards while he was in solitary. These experiences traumatized him. Ultimately, after his release, Kalief Browder took his own life on June 6, 2015, when he was 22 years old.

For more, we’re joined by Akeem Browder, Kalief’s older brother, founder of the Campaign to Shut Down Rikers.

Akeem, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s really good to have you with us. And our condolences on the death of your mom, Venida, and of your brother, Kalief. That is a lot to take in.

AKEEM BROWDER: Yeah, thank you for having me. As I let people know, I’m hoping that people realize that this system has claimed already two—and I say the system, but I’m going to put a face to it: De Blasio, our mayor. Mayor de Blasio has already claimed two of my family members. And it’s not—it’s not a confusion as to why. I mean, depression runs thoroughly in our family because of what happened to Kalief, and anxiety and stress—my mother, through her heart attack that just took her life last week. My mother constantly kept on letting it be known that they took her boy, they took her son. And all she wanted was someone to take a stance and say, “Yes, I’m responsible.” She wanted someone to be responsible for her son’s loss.

AMY GOODMAN: Take us through what happened. Kalief is a 16-year-old, lives in the Bronx. He’s picked up. The police say he stole a backpack. They don’t have a witness to this. They don’t have even a complainant whose backpack it is, who they claim.

AKEEM BROWDER: They claim. But so, I mean, if you think of it, whenever you see or hear of these kind of stories, you take for granted, because the news says that this person is guilt or is arrested for robbery and—or murder or something, but you don’t know the circumstances, so the news is not really telling you that what actually happened is my mom finally let Kalief out on his—at 16 years old to go to a birthday party, and—

AMY GOODMAN: You mean she didn’t like him out and about at night.

AKEEM BROWDER: Yeah, we weren’t actually allowed out. We had privileges as we got older, 16 being that then be able to have an 11:00 curfew. Well, that’s what she gave him. And on his way back home, which he was on his way home, he was stopped by police. And the backpack that he had was his. He didn’t have a stolen backpack. But officers see a black person coming home or in the street at a late time, they kind of figure probably that this kid or this person has drugs or something that we can get. So they stopped him with the assumption or the allegation that he stole a backpack, to search in his backpack to see if he probably had drugs or something. But when they didn’t find that, they had to make up an allegation that there was someone that said and reported that he stole their backpack. And they changed the story three times. They said he stole the backpack two hours before. Then it was two days before. Then, in the prison, during—in the court, they changed it to two weeks before. They kept on changing the story three different times to accommodate what their goal was, which is just to give another black man, or young boy, a felony. That’s the goal.

AMY GOODMAN: So he’s put in jail. How does he end up in solitary for 800 days?

AKEEM BROWDER: Kalief didn’t want to be around—didn’t want to be around the crap that goes on—excuse me, but the crap that goes on in Rikers, which is, it’s a gladiator school. You go there to learn how to fight, to defend your life, to like fight until the day that you’re released. And so, Kalief, when he got there, knowing that he’s not a part of any gangs, he’s not a part of any affiliations, yet when they put him in a Blood house, he has to fend for his life. So, constantly having to fight, and then the repercussion of fighting is going to solitary confinement. Or his mouth—he’s a 16-year-old. And officers who beat him, he then lost respect.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait. I want to talk about this officers who beat him.


AMY GOODMAN: Some remarkable video The New Yorker magazine got originally showed what happened to Kalief. And as we show the video, let me narrate it for our radio audience. A guard is waiting outside his cell, takes Kalief out, and he’s shackled, Kalief. And suddenly, the guard jumps him, takes him down, throws him on the ground. Another guard then joins in this. When you look at this video—


AMY GOODMAN: Two other guards—


AMY GOODMAN: —join in. What happened here? When was this? Did Kalief tell you about this at the time.

AKEEM BROWDER: Absolutely. Kalief actually gave extensive detail, because at that point he—the only way we could get these videos is because we had to subpoena the court for the date and time. They don’t just let you get the whole entire time while he was in jail. Kalief knew the date and time when this happened. Being that smart, he knew what was coming. So what he did was he remembered the date and time and the officer. What happened in that scenario is the officer brought him out the cell, said something smart to Kalief, and Kalief told us that, you know, he started talking about him, like Kalief—like Kalief was a piece of crap. And so, Kalief spoke back to him and said something smart. But he’s a kid. I mean, why, as an adult, you’re getting offended by a young adult or a teenager at this point? But then he decides, “I’m going to take out my bad day that I’m having or my anger that I have against kids, and I want to put them in their place.” You’re an overpriced babysitter. That’s what you are.

AMY GOODMAN: And there’s another scene that The New Yorker got a hold of, this video inside the prison, of other prisoners beating on Kalief as he tries to save himself. And you see guards there. And we’re going to play this right now. But what are they doing? They’re sort of standing in the midst of it. What happened here?

AKEEM BROWDER: So, the guards—the guards in this video has rules that they have—or precautions they have to follow. When there is something like this, they are told they have to—they have an emergency panic button. Officers then raid that house, on that cell block. Yet they haven’t done it once. And then to put him there—

AMY GOODMAN: You mean they haven’t hit the button once?

AKEEM BROWDER: They haven’t hit the button once. And they’re standing there, because they know they’re—they perpetuated this fight. They spit in his—in Kalief’s face. The inmate—or the detainees spit in Kalief’s face, because they were trying to break him. And the officers told him at that time, “We’re going to break you.” And that’s exactly what they were trying to do. But you see, that gate that they put him in is called the A and B gate. That A and B gate is locked mechanically.

AMY GOODMAN: Where he’s in a tiny area with all of these other prisoners.

AKEEM BROWDER: You see this right here? He’s in a—in between, when they put him inside? That’s the A and B gate. It’s mechanically locked. It can’t get open from a kick. So, they had to have pressed the button so that more inmates could come and then continue their savage assault on Kalief. But officers still had at that point a chance to press their button, and they didn’t.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to then go to Kalief, once he’s out. And this is a clip we played in Part 1 of our conversation with you, but I want to go back to this. I want to go to the clip that we played when he’s talking to HuffPost Live's Marc Lamont Hill as he's talking about attempting suicide when he’s in solitary confinement.

KALIEF BROWDER: I would say I committed suicide about five to six—five or six times.

MARC LAMONT HILL: OK, you attempted suicide five to six times.


MARC LAMONT HILL: All while still in prison?



KALIEF BROWDER: And I tried to resort to telling the correction officers that I wanted to see a psychiatrist or counselor, something. I was telling them I needed mental help, because I wasn’t feeling right. All the stress from my case, everything was just getting to me, and I just—I just couldn’t take it, and I just needed somebody to talk to. I needed to just let—I just needed to be—I just needed to talk and be stress-free. But the correction officers, they didn’t want to hear me out. Nobody wanted to listen.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Kalief, your brother. And I’m sorry to—you know, to have you have to see him here, although maybe in some way it is helpful. Is it, in any way, to see him, or is it too painful? Or both?

AKEEM BROWDER: Now that with the loss of my mom, it’s more painful. She was fighting for justice or for him to have some kind of—for her to rest his case, at least. And she hasn’t—she hasn’t gotten that, and she’s already passed now.

AMY GOODMAN: So he’s describing attempting suicide. Talk about what happened when he’s in solitary and he attempts suicide. What happens to him there? How do they care for him?

AKEEM BROWDER: “Care” is a really far stretch of a word, because the care that they gave him was: We’re going to reprimand you for trying to take your life. So, what they did was, when Kalief stepped outside of his cell to slice his wrist, because he was calling for attention while he was in the cell—he was calling for attention, and no one gave him attention for more than—for two days. On the second day, when they opened his cell, he slit his wrists. And they beat him for it. They held him against his cell in a chokehold while—up against his cell, while he’s bleeding. And the care that they gave him was: We’re going to wrap your arm up to stop the bleeding, and then throw you back in your cell with no—I mean, he did it for attention, so that he can be—so he can talk and relieve himself. I mean, what person doesn’t want to have human contact after being in solitary confinement? And he couldn’t take it, especially being innocent. Can you imagine what he was thinking? “Man, why do I have to go through this? Like, I didn’t do anything. And then, all of a sudden, I have to slice my wrists to get attention.” He wasn’t suicidal. Just so you know, he attempted suicide because of all the things that he went through, but before he was home, he was never suicidal. Kalief was, if anything, a strong kid.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to Kalief talking on HuffPostLive.

KALIEF BROWDER: If you say anything that could tick them off any type of way, some of them, which is a lot of them, what they do is they starve you. They won’t feed you. And it’s already hard in there, because if you get the three trays that you get every day, you’re still hungry, because I guess that’s part of the punishment. So, if they starve you one tray, that could really make an impact on you. And—

MARC LAMONT HILL: How much were you starved?

KALIEF BROWDER: I was starved a lot. I can’t even—I can’t even count.

AKEEM BROWDER: Kalief was starved. And to put it more clearly, breakfast, lunch, dinner, breakfast, lunch—he didn’t get, 'til dinner, where they would then give him a tray of cabbage. And Kalief tried to make it right. You know, in one of the visits, he told me that, you know, “They gave me cabbage, but at least they gave me bread and cabbage. I didn't eat the bread because”—Kalief was very much a—he wanted to be fit and—so he’s like, “And I eat the healthy stuff. I ate all the cabbage.” How do you—I mean, he’s trying to make it right in his mind. That’s what I heard when he told me. I’m sitting in this visit with him, and he’s like, “But I came out—I ate the cabbage.” And I’m sitting there like wanting to cry, but I can’t let him see that I’m going to cry, because he has to be strong. He’s going back in there. And yet, he’s only eating cabbage, after breakfast, lunch, dinner, breakfast, lunch? And then—

AMY GOODMAN: Which he didn’t get.

AKEEM BROWDER: Which he didn’t get, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: All those meals, he wasn’t served.

AKEEM BROWDER: All those meals, I’m sorry, he wasn’t served.

AMY GOODMAN: Breakfast, lunch, dinner; then, the next day, breakfast, lunch—so, he hadn’t eaten for a day and three-quarters, and then they give him a—

AKEEM BROWDER: And then they gave him a tray of cabbage—

AMY GOODMAN: —dinner of cabbage and bread.

AKEEM BROWDER: —and bread, which he didn’t eat the bread. Like, what they’re saying is “We’re going to break you.” And that’s the goal.

AMY GOODMAN: You had said that they beat him after he attempted suicide?

AKEEM BROWDER: Yeah. So, what they—the officers, if you make the officers work—they’re just babysitters. If you make the officers work, they’re mad. So, work is “I have to do paperwork now? You made my shift hard. I’m about to leave, and now I’ve got to do paperwork? I’m going to hurt you.” And this is what they did to him, all because, one, he needed attention. You can’t stop a person from getting—you shouldn’t have to stop a person from getting attention. Just give him attention, for God’s sake. But he’s not human. When you’re on Rikers, you’re not considered human. You’re considered what the world thinks is a felon or a criminal. Yet you’re innocent until proven guilty.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you working at Rikers at the time that he was in there?

AKEEM BROWDER: Yeah, so I wasn’t a correctional officer. I don’t want anyone to get that confused. I was hired as an engineer.

AMY GOODMAN: And what does an engineer do?

AKEEM BROWDER: In Rikers, it translated to me being GI or—which is getting intelligence. Like, whenever they had searches, they would put us in—put us to go in the cell and search their belongings and find weapons. And when I’m not doing that, I was fixing cells and doing their fire alarm system and stuff of that nature. But I didn’t work for Rikers; I worked for the Department of Corrections. So I only—I went to Rikers from time to time, but throughout the time that I was working, which was a year and a half, I went to all these facilities—Manhattan House, “The Boat,” Brooklyn House.

AMY GOODMAN: And “The Boat” is?

AKEEM BROWDER: “The Boat” is a barge, where they—in the middle—it’s in between the Bronx and Queens, and it’s just in the water. And they have inmates, or human beings, on a barge, which is what—it looks like a garbage barge, where they have these big trailers. And this is where humans are being stored.

AMY GOODMAN: Describe visiting Kalief with your mom. What did you go through to get in to see him?

AKEEM BROWDER: What I went through—I mean, I’m going to describe what my mother went through, because when you go through it, you’re not seeing it as prevalent as when you’re watching your mother being told to shake her bra. And she’s like, “What do you”—I remember the first time, she didn’t understand that concept. So the woman guard goes and shakes her bra, puts her hand through the lining of her bra, then puts her hand through the lining of your pants and then pats you down. And you’re being violated by a—whether it’s a male or woman, because, you know, sometimes it’s a man. And that person could then fight and say, “No, I want a woman to do this.” But the women are rough, first of all. My mother attested to that. But then, on top of that, sometimes you just want to see your son, and they say, “I don’t have a woman officer, so you either let me search you, or you have to wait.” And you know that that woman officer will not come, because there’s women officers that walk past, but she’s not allowed to do searches. Are you serious? I’ve waited for sometimes four hours—four hours to have a 45-minute visit; sometimes a 20-minute visit, and then the alarms go off, and then the visit’s over. They have to then shuffle these inmates or detainees or human beings back into their cages, so—and then you’re shuffled out of there, so you only—you went through a six-hour wait to then only see your son or brother for 20 minutes.

AMY GOODMAN: And let’s be clear: Rikers Island, which what, like 7,500 people at any one time, 75,000—

AKEEM BROWDER: Well, actually, it’s 70,000 people are put through the system a year. And yet—I mean, just two years ago, or last year, ending 2014, there was 14,000 people that stayed there as detainees prolonged.

AMY GOODMAN: So, 80 percent of those people are not charged or convicted of a crime.


AMY GOODMAN: They are just there. Often they can’t afford the bail or bond to get out, awaiting trial.

AKEEM BROWDER: Rikers is just holding people who cannot afford to bail themselves out. Kalief had a $3,000 bail, right? But it was $10,000. It’s just the percentage that they say that’s needed is only $3,000. Only $3,000 is kind of hard for a mother who doesn’t have financial support. I mean, the husband is an estranged—16-year estranged husband, who now is advantageous because since he’s technically the husband, he technically is deserving of 50 percent or 100 percent of Kalief’s estate. But when—at the time, Kalief only needed $3,000 to be bailed out, and my mother couldn’t afford that, and we couldn’t get the money up. Besides, we also thought they’re going to release him, because he didn’t do anything. But as time went on, they started offering him 15 years. This scared Kalief. On a visit one time, I’m like, “Kalief, just—you know what? Take the seven. Take seven years.” I was even—I was telling him this.

AMY GOODMAN: Take seven years in prison?

AKEEM BROWDER: Because they offered 15. And I’m like, “No, this is not possible.” But then my mother’s getting really worried, like, “15 years? My son is going to be in 15 years, come out at 30 years old? We can’t do this.” So then they then come to you with a “better offer”: seven years. And we’re like, “Kalief, just take it,” because, like, the attorney he had, the public defender, was telling him, “This is the best you’re going to get,” was telling him that, you know, “They’re being generous. But if you go to trial, they can give you the max of 15 years.” So then, it scares you, that when you hear seven years, you go, “I’m going to take it.” But Kalief, he was actually strong. I remember visiting him one separate time, where I’m like, “Kalief, they don’t have nothing on you. This is a game that they play.” But who knew it was going to be three years?

AMY GOODMAN: And most of that time in solitary confinement.

AKEEM BROWDER: More than half.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this year, Venida Browder, Kalief and Akeem’s mom, spoke at the American Justice Summit and described the day she found Kalief’s body hanging from the side of their home.

VENIDA BROWDER: I was home alone with him. And he—we had a little discussion earlier, and I was at a loss as to what to do. I didn’t know what to do, how to really, you know, help him, because he became very paranoid. Very paranoid.

JUJU CHANG: Worried about getting beaten or attacked.

VENIDA BROWDER: Yes. And I tried talking to him. So, he went upstairs. And I was just laying on my bed, and he came in. He said, “Ma”—that was his thing. “Ma, you all right?” I said, “Yeah, I’m OK.” He went back upstairs. And I hear all this moving. So I figure, you know, he was in his brother’s room. He’s situating the room so he could get comfortable and watch TV. Then I hear him pacing from one room to the other. But when Kalief is upset, he paces. So I didn’t pay attention. Then, all of a sudden, I hear this loud noise. And I’m like, “Oh, my goodness. The child done threw his brother’s TV out the window.” But I say, “He can’t, because there’s bars.” So I say, “Wait a minute.” I go upstairs. I went in his brother’s room. Nothing. Then I went in the other room, and he had kicked out the air conditioner covers. And I saw this gold rope thing. And I ran downstairs, and when I opened the backyard door, his foot—one of his feet was on the bar of the gate. And I said, “Kalief, stop playing. This is not a joke. It’s not funny.” I said, “Kalief!” And then I got afraid to open the door all the way, in case it was my fault that, you know, he snapped. But when I looked up, his head was just hanging back. He was gone. And that loud noise was his body banging up against the house.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s your mom, Venida Browder, describing the suicide of your brother. You just lost your mom a few weeks ago, and I’m so sorry to play this for you right now.

AKEEM BROWDER: You know, my mom, she had to like deal with the thought that like she thought that she did this to Kalief. Sorry. She thought that she was the responsible one for what happened to Kalief, because she let him out that day to go to a birthday party. But now, like, I mean, it’s hard to hear my mother’s voice, because, like, she always spoke of Kalief like it was her life, as though like she had no other kids. Like, she loved her niece and—or her grandchildren. It’s like a chance to like help or protect them, since she lost Kalief. But then she would go back to being like an advocate for Kalief at all points. And it’s just sad to hear my mom’s voice, because like I was—me and my mom had a really strong connection, and we still do. Like, I’m not embarrassed to say this, but a little. My mom visits me at night now, like I dream of her often. She talks to me. Like, I can’t sleep at night because I’m hearing my mom. But to hear her on—like her actual voice speaking, it’s like, man, I’m—my family is relocating to the cemetery. They’re—my brothers are depressed now. Like they don’t want to live without mommy.

When it happened to Kalief, it’s like, you know what, I—I was angry, I was sad, I was hurt that they took my—this was my buddy. Like, he was my workout buddy. He was—we had this relation, since he’s been in jail, I was in jail. We both related because he loved Tupac. So, like, he was—like, he was my buddy. He was—we were real close, actually. And at night sometimes when he couldn’t sleep, he’d call me. I’d drive over to my mother’s house, pick him up, drive down Pelham Parkway. And I’d notice he—within like four minutes, five minutes tops, he’s sleeping in my passenger seat. But it would hurt me, because while he’s sleeping, I’m seeing him twitch as though he’s fighting while he’s sleeping. This jail never left him. The torture they did to him never left him. So while he’s in a car seat relaxed, because he couldn’t sleep at home, he’s now in the car seat sleeping and fighting in his dreams.

I mean, while he was home, people said—and I hate the term that people say he was paranoid, but Kalief wasn’t paranoid. It’s not paranoia that happened. When he came home, unmarked police cars would sit on the corner of my mother’s block. And when he comes outside, they would chase him back in by driving past the house and going [gestures pointing a gun with his hand] like that, with their hands, not with the actual gun.

AMY GOODMAN: Like making the form of a gun.

AKEEM BROWDER: Of a gun, and they would go like this when he comes out the house. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Like he’s shooting him—like they’re shooting him.

AKEEM BROWDER: Yeah, and he would run inside, tell my mom. My mom would go outside, not see it. But then, after a while, we started catching them on camera. So my mom would call me, because I’m seven minutes away from my mother’s house. I would drive over there, and I’d see the car. I’d walk past it, but it’s tinted. It’s an unmarked car. And I’d go inside. And when he comes out, same thing, all the time. And then, on top of that, before he passed, the night before, he got a text that said, “We warned you.” The morning of—he took his life around—in the afternoon, around 12:00. The morning of, his cellphone, he had a second text, unknown number: “We warned you.” Kalief wasn’t paranoid. He was being chased. He was being coerced into taking his life, because when you have a person on—he was on a medication, starts with an R, I just can’t remember the name. But not Ritalin, but he was on a depression medication that has a statistic of, if you give it to a person between the age of 11 and 21, it’s a 17 percent risk of suicide. They were, in every way, teaching him and prodding him to commit suicide. This—

AMY GOODMAN: Do you have any idea who those people were in the tinted car, tinted windows?

AKEEM BROWDER: They were definitely officers. Kalief got—and what people don’t know is, Kalief got shot. In December 21st—on December 21st of 2015—no, of 2014, sorry, Kalief was shot in the abdomen, sent to St. Barnabas, where my mother passed. And in—

AMY GOODMAN: Later, recently, yeah.

AKEEM BROWDER: Just recently. And he was intensive care. But there, he was irate, because they gave him medication—he was considered a John Doe, but they’re giving a John Doe medication, not knowing that he’s on this medication that they gave him, which made him really irate. So, he’s—I got up there. They tried to keep me in the waiting room. I ran up. I’m not—I’m seeing my brother. I went in there. I hear him say, “Akeem! Akeem!” calling for me. It made me more like, “Oh, my god! What’s going on? What are they doing to my brother?” Behind curtains, he’s calling, “Akeem! Akeem! What are they doing? They’re trying to kill me!” I go in behind the curtain. Kalief sees me, but he’s still calling “Akeem!” I’m like, “What did you”—I went to the nurse. “What did you put—what are you doing to him?” He was handcuffed to the bed, while he’s being—while he’s shot, in intensive care, internal bleeding.

AMY GOODMAN: From—he wasn’t in prison at the time, was he, when he was shot?

AKEEM BROWDER: No, no, this is home.

AMY GOODMAN: So why would they handcuff him?

AKEEM BROWDER: Because they said he was being irate. He’s being irate because you gave him medication against what he was already taking, probably made—I’m not—I’m not the medical person, but for them to do what they did, and no responsibility is given at all—so, there’s a docuseries coming out from the producers that came to my family called Time: The Story of Kalief Browder. It comes out January 11th of 2017.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Jay Z, is involved with this, and Spike TV?

AKEEM BROWDER: Yes, yes. And Jenner Furst is the producer. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Who did Orange is the New Black?

AKEEM BROWDER: Yes, yeah. And all these—everything that—so, we’ve seen in the movie the 13th, or the documentary, 13th

AMY GOODMAN: 13th, yeah, documentary, Ava DuVernay.

AKEEM BROWDER: —it’s stuff that we’ve already—it’s stuff that we’ve already seen with Kalief, five minutes’ worth. But this is telling the real story, so you’ll hear the real story of, like, he was shot, or how they were taunting him. He was arrested in—

AMY GOODMAN: Who shot him?

AKEEM BROWDER: Kalief—you know what? They told—Kalief told us it was a white person. In my mother’s neighborhood, there’s no white people; it’s black and Hispanic predominantly. But when you hear of a white person, you’re—and he doesn’t know who—

AMY GOODMAN: Where was he? Was this at night?

AKEEM BROWDER: Right in my—no, in the afternoon, right in—

AMY GOODMAN: This is when he was a student at Bronx Community College?

AKEEM BROWDER: Yes. And he was shot in the abdomen in the—like next to the building. He made it home, holding himself, went upstairs, said he wanted—he has to sleep it off. He thought he was just going to sleep it off. Called the ambulance. They came. Police came. They dropped the case within 24 hours, saying they have no leads and that he shot himself. They said he shot himself. Yet he’s saying some—a white person shot him. Now, of course, he doesn’t know who it is, because someone shot him. But they put—they said that he shot himself.

AMY GOODMAN: I just wanted to read a quote of Jay Z, who said, “Kalief Browder is a modern day prophet; his story a failure of the judicial process. A young man, and I emphasize young man, who lost his life because of a broken system. His tragedy has brought atrocities to light and now we must confront the issues and events that occurred so other young me can have a chance at justice.” Those the words of Jay Z. When Kalief got out of jail, a number of celebrities reached out to him, is that right? He was on Oprah?

AKEEM BROWDER: He was—what do you call it?—on a lot of shows, as you saw, like he was on The View. He was on other shows. I don’t know all—

AMY GOODMAN: And how did that affect him?

AKEEM BROWDER: He—I mean, he was ecstatic to meet Jay Z, like it’s his idol. And yet, I mean, I wish they would have, at the time when he was alive, taken it seriously that he doesn’t need exposure, he doesn’t need a basketball game to go to. It’s nice. I really appreciate them doing this. I just wish they would have like said, “You know what? After this game, we’re going to like hook you up and send you to counseling or therapy, or help you with the fact that you can’t sleep at night.” Something. Because it does take finances to do this.

Now, what the Department of Corrections or what de Blasio says about resources, resources, resources, he—I went to a meeting, and he was speaking of resources. I went to a meeting just last week, Wednesday, and he’s speaking of resources, in which—why he couldn’t get justice reform, his thing that he was advocating for, why it’s not making any effect, because there’s no resources. These resources, people have.

And these are—these are celebrities or people in high places that can provide counseling for a family that you destroyed, that can provide help—because my mother literally broke down and couldn’t do anything unless it was related to Kalief. I mean, she tried—she started a Sweets by V, like she was a baker. She baked so many like different cupcakes and things, but she called it Kalief’s Kupcakes, like she had a specialty, Kalief’s Kupcakes. It was KK, right? And she only did things when it came to Kalief, but when it was anything other than Kalief, she would break down. She could not perform in the way that she was. I mean, we’re used to seeing our mother do everything—Thanksgiving, making—but like none of this, because it wasn’t related to Kalief. That means she needs help. That means take some time to humanize, make her human again, and not this machine that just goes up to Albany and fights for justice and then doesn’t get it.

We fought for a Kalief Browder law. We need 34 votes; we got 31.

AMY GOODMAN: And this was the law that—

AKEEM BROWDER: For a speedy trial, sorry. Speedy trial is—the Kalief Browder law brings up the inconsistencies and the ways that the court gets around not—or allows for someone like Kalief to go to court 38 different times without having a hearing.

AMY GOODMAN: He’s a kid in jail, 38 different times, and the prosecutor kept saying, “I want this extended”?

AKEEM BROWDER: “We’re not ready.” They play a game. So, Close Rikers, they helped bring it to light by helping like advocate for this up in Albany. And what they—what they brought to light is, you know, we’ve brought over a hundred cases, from the time span of this year, January to February, over a hundred cases, proving what they do, which is they’ll play a game with the time clock. They say, “We’re not ready.” And then, when—three days later, behind the person, the detainee, who goes to Rikers, when he’s not in court, they go to the judge and say, “We’re ready.” Now that they’re ready, your clock stops, because the DA is ready to prosecute. But then they bring him back, and the excuse they give, in over a hundred cases, is “We can’t find the witness,” or “The officer is on vacation.” And then, now, he goes back to Rikers. They’re not ready, right? Three days—

AMY GOODMAN: Because he doesn’t have the $500 or $1,000 or $3,000 bond, where he would be waiting at home, not in prison.

AKEEM BROWDER: But what the DA then does is, three days later, go back to the judge and file an injunction saying, “We’re ready. We found the witness,” or “The officer, we know what date he’s going to come back.” This is a game, a really disgusting game, because all you had to do is bring the person in and say—I mean, we have the right to be—to face our accuser, don’t we? I mean, this is America. We’re not in—I mean, you know, America has never been great. So, if you go to any other country—I mean, I’ve been to Europe, where they’re baffled by our establishment of the judicial system or our corrections system. They’ve never heard of it. I mean, 60 Minutes, they did an interview with me, and they’re—we don’t do this to our people, and it’s not even thought of to do it to teenagers.

AMY GOODMAN: So you want to shut down Rikers.

AKEEM BROWDER: I want to—I want to attack any jail that has mass incarceration in solitary confinement, because right now we’re given lip service from people like de Blasio, who says they’re going to do and make changes that are effective, yet go behind our back and hire 1,600 new officers, a month after saying, “We’re going to close Rikers.” He’s like, “We’re going to do whatever it takes to get these people off of Rikers and reduce the population so that we can close it.” However, then you go behind our back and hire 1,600 new officers? And then, to make it worse, to perpetuate it, what they’re doing is—and what they just passed a bill is to have live ammunition and Tasers on Rikers Island. Tasers. They already passed that, so Tasers are now in Rikers, where you control that on the population. You already control them. No one’s been needing Tasers. Why now introduce that and then live ammunition? You want bullets on Rikers? And then what? Make up a story, like they always do?

They say, when I was there, nothing leaves Rikers. And I’m not there now, so even when I was there, I wasn’t following by this rule. They let the bridge up. When an assault happens, a slicing, a murder, they let—they open the bridge so no transportation could go through, and then create their story. And they say, “And what needs to be said is this.” They put those guards that probably is going to be against it or not for it, but they introduce these other guards—they’re on the shift for now, while the other one is filling out paperwork, so-called. And then they let the bridge down. Reporters come in. And whoom, now we have the story the way we want to tell it. That’s corruption, not correction.

AMY GOODMAN: Akeem, is there anything else you want to add?

AKEEM BROWDER: Thank you. I did want to say, because there’s a lot of supporters that support the Campaign to Shut Down Rikers and what we’re trying to do, which is bring the prison population down and also have a vision of a jail-free NYC, which Close Rikers, led by JustLeadership, Glenn Martin, and a lot of their supporters, they’ve been very supportive of our family. And they’re—we’re Shut Down Rikers, and they’re”: And we have also, likewise—

AMY GOODMAN: And your website is?


AMY GOODMAN: And are you bringing suit against New York City, your family?

AKEEM BROWDER: Yes, we have a current—the lawsuit that my mother was on, that my mother was doing in Kalief’s name. We’re now picking it up as the brother and my sister.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Akeem, again, thanks so much for being with us, the older brother of Kalief Browder, who committed suicide in 2015 after spending three years at Rikers Island without trial. Akeem also lost his mother in this last month, as Akeem and his family says Venida Browder died “of a broken heart.” Akeem founded Campaign to Shut Down Rikers. I’m Amy Goodman. This is Democracy Now! Go to to see Part 1 of our conversation with Akeem and also talking about the film that’s now out called Rikers.

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