• John & Vivett Dukes

Kalief Browder: My Heart Breaks for You  By: Vivett Dukes

I was up kind of late last night. Thinking about this site. Working on it. My cousin Karla posted on FB that the Kalief Browder story was on. I immediately turned to the channel and began to watch. How does a 16 year old kid stay on Rikers Island for 1,000 days, 800 of which were spent in solitary confinement?

It hurt to hear his brothers and sister talk about him in the past tense...to laugh as they remembered his laugh...his childhood....he was a child when he got wrongly locked up. What potential Kalief had...what a good heart..."I'm happy I'm home, he said, "but I'm not the same anymore...." The traumatic residue of all that he endured in prison proved to be more than his young, impressionable mind, soul, body, and spirit could handle.

He was born into the foster-care system; born to a crack-addicted mother;born into child protective services; born with so many societal strikes against him. His life is an example of the other face of the war on drugs that doesn't get seen or thought about enough, if at all. Khalief was born into a system that failed him over and over again...So many "what ifs" surround his life.

Asking him about being suspended in middle school? Really? Asking him about his teachers? What does that have to do with anything? For all who still don't see how real the school-to-prison-pipeline is, Kalief Browder's life is a prime example. Thank God for his 10th-grade Global History teacher, Ms. Charlene Alves. She gave him attention. She saw good in him. She gave him much needed love.

Urban kids - poor, urban kids - are dehumanized. By the time they get to HS they are conditioned to believe that they will fail, that they will never amount to anything worthwhile. Many, like Kalief, wear adoption or foster care like a badge of shame. He, like so many, needed his father. The role of the father is so important. Their absence hurts, more than a little bit. Kalief was looking for friends, for a family. He found that in the streets. Too many poor, urban kids are not in school. They are just chillin, smoking weed...criminal activity abounds...leads to arrest...simple acts of peer pressure lead to criminal activity. Should a 16 year old be held responsible for his actions like an adult is? Haven't we all made mistakes as kids that were just that -- childish errors? To get five years probation for a joy ride in a bakery truck? C'mon! That's harsh. That's what happened to Kalief Browder. That's all part of the set-up, all part of the numerous traps set for poor, urban kids to feed the criminal justice system and make everyone else's pockets fat, while they become modern-day slaves. Normalization of stop and frisk -- part of the trap! Black and Brown children profiled -- part of the trap!

On May 15, 2010, Kalief was falsely arrested by the NYPD for allegedly stealing a back pack with money, an expensive camera, and some other items of monetary value in it. The allegations were false. His arrest was a farse. He remained in jail on Rikers Island for the next three years without ever being formally charged, for a crime that he did not commit!

On June 6, 2016, at the tender age of 22, Kalief Browder committed suicide.

Has anyone paid for the loss of this innocent young man's life, this young brother left to languish in prison? The crazy part is that his bail was set at $3,000...Bond of $900...He lost his life for $900...slave auction block prices.

What aired on t.v last night was just one episode of a documentary series on the tragedy that became of Kalief Browder's life. Perhaps I'll write about it more....I don't know. It took a lot for me to get these thoughts and feelings out of me. I can't help but think about the harsh realities that my husband has endured in prison for all these years, and how they will affect him when he gets released. Prison is not to be taken lightly. One minute in prison is too long; yet, America has the highest incarceration rate in the world. How can we sleep at night with this as our country's truth? How many more Kalief Browder's are there out there? How do we change the narrative? I don't know have answers -- not yet, at least, but I'm determined to help discover or create them. Kalief Browder's life and death will not be in vain.

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