The Spike docu-series “Time: The Kalief Browder Story” ended its run Wednesday on a hopeful note, as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio last week announced a plan to close Rikers Island.
The late-breaking news led Spike and “Time” executive producers Harvey Weinstein and Jay Z to update the finale with the news. Rikers Island is where 16-year-old Browder was confined for three years – two of them in solitary confinement – while awaiting trial for allegedly stealing a backpack. Charges were eventually dropped and no trial ever held, but by then the damage was done: He took his life after being released from the jail.
Browder’s brother, Akeem Browder, calls it a victory, but one with a lot of disappointment attached. The plan to shut down Rikers will take ten years, and the city would replace it with new jails across the city.
“We’re not advocating for the opening of new jails,” he said. “We called for the immediate shutdown of Rikers, but we got a 10-year plan to shut down Rikers.” As for the new jails, Browder says that just shuffles the problem: “My brother was abused at Rikers by the guards, so shutting down the jail and transferring those guards to another jail just backs their negative behavior.”
Browder said he also found de Blasio’s sudden decision to shut down Rikers to be a cynical ploy for votes. The mayor is up for re-election, and only reversed his stance on the jail when it was politically prudent.
“It’s lip service,” he said. “He’s been known to make promises that he hasn’t kept. But he only does it during reelection season. Then, to make it a ten-year plan, he’s not even going to be the mayor ten years from now. And so the next mayor can do away with his plan and say we don’t have the money to do it.”
Browder said de Blasio was non-committal when he met with the mayor eight months ago.
Meanwhile, Browder is the driving force behind the Shut Down Rikers site (www.shutdownrikers.com) and also the “Raise the Age” initiative, which is advocating raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York State. Browder has been frustrated with the state’s unwillingness so far to move on the proposal, and recently lost a valuable ally, when his mother passed away in October.
“She was broken down by the system, no matter how often we try and go to Albany and try to have a hand in our society’s workings, we get turned down,” he said. “My mom broke down in Albany one day when she heard Raise the Age wouldn’t be passed. I didn’t get to fulfill a legacy for my mom or Kalief. It’s a worthy and much needed cause to reevaluate how we look at children in the correctional system. We’ll have to suffer another year of seeing our children being put into our jails. You can’t join the military or vote until you’re 18, you can’t drink until you’re 21.”
“Time: The Kalief Browder Story” has helped highlight the cause and spread awareness of Kalief Browder’s plight. Now, he said, it’s in the public’s hands. “Jay Z and Harvey Weinstein are the executive producers, but you guys, the people, are the power behind these voices. We leave it with the population to help us continue the talk and figure out what we should do to prevent another Kalief Browder from happening. How that would look like, and what that would to do to hold accountable who need to be accountable.”