The Kalief Browder Story is the raw and painful documentary you must see
On June 6, 2015, 22-year-old Kalief Browder, a young black man who spent three years on Rikers Island awaiting trial for allegedly stealing a backpack, hung himself with an air conditioning cord from his second story bedroom window.
Just two years before, Browder had made national headlines when he filed a lawsuit against the New York Police Department, the Bronx District Attorney and the Department of Corrections, alleging wrongful arrest, violation of his civil rights, torture, abuse and starvation. During his three-year detainment at Rikers—which began when he was only 16— Browder spent more than 700 days in solitary confinement, leading to depression, delusions and paranoia.
Details of his horrific story sparked widespread outrage and shock. They also caught the attention and support of political figures and celebrities, including Rosie O’Donnell, who hailed him as “a hero,” and Jay Z who, actively sought out Browder after hearing of his ordeal.
A recent documentary is giving new life to Browder’s story and examining the broken judicial system which ultimately, cost him his life. TIME: The Kalief Browder Story is a six-part docuseries that gives an uncensored look into the horrific conditions Browder endured while imprisoned. Originally broadcast on Spike TV this past March, the series, which combines live interviews with Rikers Island surveillance footage, aired last week on Netflix.
There’s little that can emotionally prepare you for the series. Although details of Browder’s time at Rikers had already been made public prior to its original broadcast, the documentary’s raw and uncensored nature leaves you feeling an array of emotions—anger, sorrow, confusion, determination— all at once.
In it, we hear Browder’s mother Venida Browder, repeatedly question how America, “the greatest country in the world,” could commit such a transgression against her son. At face value, it’s a simple question with a simple answer. But as the documentary quickly uncovers, the answer to her question is in fact much more complex.
At its heart, The Kalief Browder Story is about more than just one young man. It is a poignant examination of how a broken system, designed to criminalize the poor and people of colour, effectively and repeatedly does so. It’s a shocking look into the corruption and negligence of the judicial system and its often deadly consequences. It is a brutally painful retelling of how a broken system cost a young black man his childhood, his freedom and ultimately, his life.
Kalief Browder loved and was loved. When he would speak of the unimaginable hardship he endured at Rikers, he continuously talked of his mother and his concerns about her deteriorating health. One friend described him as being a “goofball,” saying Browder was always cracking jokes and making others laugh. Another recalls how he once told her she was beautiful when she felt self-conscious about her figure. It’s these small glimpses into Browder’s personality and life before Rikers that make watching his story so painful.
There is no singular person upon whom we can place the blame for Kalief Browder’s lost life. His death isn’t the result of one sole person’s action but rather, the cumulative failings and negligence of an entire system. His story is the type of tragedy that no matter how many times it’s told, it’s likely to always provoke emotion and a demand for change. It’s the sort of heartbreaking story that will leave you with more questions than answers.
TIME: The Kalief Browder Story is without a doubt one of the most difficult documentaries we may ever watch. But it’s also one of the most necessary.
But that’s just According to Adrienne.