By Bill Parry
The suicide of a young man from the Bronx devastated one City Councilman from Queens. Kalief Browder, arrested as a 16-year-old for allegedly stealing a backpack and held on Rikers Island for three years without a trial or conviction, hung himself last weekend.
“Kalief’s story broke my heart,” Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said. “I didn’t know him personally but I saw the conditions that he was kept under. I just can’t believe they would do this to a human, let along a 16-year-old boy.”
Dromm has been an advocate against the use of solitary confinement of adolescents on Rikers Island and in other city prisons. During his time in Rikers, Browder was beaten by guards and fellow inmates and subjected to isolation for extended periods of time, according to a widely read New Yorker article last year.
“All New Yorkers share a certain responsibility for his death and a responsibility to make sure this never happens again,” Dromm said. “They’ve now ended putting 16- and 17-year-olds in solitary, in large part due to our advocacy. So this won’t happen any longer, but it still happens to nearly 400 adults in our city’s prisons every day.”
When he was arrested, Browder’s family couldn’t raise the $3,000 bail. His court date was continually delayed and the charges were dropped in 2013. He may have been freed from prison but he was haunted by his experiences, his family said. He took his own life in his mother’s Bronx home, Saturday, at the age of 22.
Browder’s high-profile case contributed to the Justice Department’s scathing report last year, which described the “rampant use of unnecessary and excessive force” by guards against teenage inmates on Rikers Island. Mayor Bill de Blasio cited Browder’s case when he proposed his sweeping reforms for city prisons.
“Kalief’s story helped inspire our efforts on Rikers Island, where we are working to ensure that no New Yorkers spend years in jail waiting for their day in court,” de Blasio said. “There is no reason he should have gone through this ordeal, and his tragic death is a reminder that we must continue to work each day to provide the mental health services so many New Yorkers need. On behalf of all New Yorkers, we send our condolences to the Browder family during this difficult time.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr