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a city street

Kalief Browder’s Ordeal, Our Shame

Sam Hine

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  • Carolee A Uits

    Such pain is in my heart for Kalief. I did not know him and yet he is the very person I marched, cried out for, and worked for in the Civil Rights Movement days. It was more than about "Negro rights" then for Christians in the movement. It was about justice, healing reconciliation, and access to basics for all people in the human family. Oh yes, some people of color ( Black,Brown, even Red (and Woman) gained some academic and economic ascendency. But this token is not payment in full called for when Jesus said, "Love your neighbor - as (much) as you love yourself." Not an idealism it is His loving command to us to make the Kingdom as it is intended. I was happy to see that the Ford Foundation, just this week has decided to release funds ONLY for human/civil rights issues for exactly Kalief - for injustice, bias, and lack of sufficient social supports for the poor, mentally distressed, imprisoned,..... and all we can name. But unless the Christian Community - all of us who see Jesus' words as real, step forward again into the social fray UNITED at least as much as in the Civil Rights Days, the effects will be fully incomplete, and will have missed the mark: Every person needs the resources (supported inwardly within themselves and commonly available in society) for wholeness - but only will the love of Christ working through caring people to make it happen (at every level of society and especially through the churches), will people KNOW, EXPERIENCE the love that comes with reconciliation - and that brings true healing and wholeness - the kind God intends. Carolee Uits Bukoba, Tanaznia

  • Mark Bankus Sr

    regretfully thishappens more than we know of, it is ashame that our justice system can not do its job or those incharge, this young man's family should be fully compensated and for the guards who may or maynot have abused him, your time will come. They say Karma has a way around the world, just remember what goes around comes around. truly sorry that this young man had to pass for the ignorance of others or the refusal to help those in need

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” ― Nelson Mandela

The story of Kalief Browder, 22, who hanged himself last Saturday at his mother’s New York apartment, has been widely reported. But have we really let it get to us? Will this be just another casualty in a litany of injustices, from which we turn away in anger or despair? Or can we see this tragic life, and every life, though the eyes of Jesus?

Arrested as a sixteen-year-old accused of stealing a backpack, Browder lost three years of his youth in New York’s notorious Rikers Island jails, much of it in solitary confinement, waiting for a trial to clear his name. Poor and black, he was just another of the more than two million Americans behind bars. Browder maintained his innocence and refused to plead guilty, even though he could have been released with time served. In the end he was freed – three years older and profoundly broken – without ever receiving a trial, because his accuser could no longer be located.

In a heartbreaking account in the New Yorker in October 2014, Jennifer Gonnerman detailed the abuse Browder suffered at the hands of prison guards, his neglect by overwhelmed and underfunded courts, and his ongoing struggle with depression as he attempted to resume normal life. Thankfully the story did spark outrage and concern, with celebrities Jay Z and Rosie O’Donnell reaching out to Browder, an anonymous citizen offering to pay his college tuition, and politicians from Bill de Blasio to Rand Paul calling for reform. Sadly, that wasn’t enough to save Browder.

While Browder’s story may be especially egregious, it does exemplify the failure of our society toward its young, its poor, its minorities, and its mentally ill – that is, our failure to heal the wounds we inflict. May God forgive us all.

We can’t just bury Kalief Browder and move on. We need to renew our efforts to build a society where such a thing never happens. And again, we need to let these words of Jesus speak to each of us: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Photo by Zack Gross © The New Yorker Kalief Browder
Photo by Zack Gross © The New Yorker
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