In the age of social media, videos and photographs are shared around the world instantly. Police brutality and murder have been filmed, documented, and spread. This is not something new because it has been happening since the beginning of time just now there are cameras. With the dark shadow of Jim Crow and the antebellum era, you could make the argument that this is just the way it is, an inescapable part of our culture. But it does not have to be.
A Bronx-raised black teen killed himself after being wrongfully imprisoned for three years, and music mogul Jay-Z, serving as producer, brings the story of Kalief Browder to the small screen in a six-part docu-series called TIME: The Kalief Browder Story, which debuted on March 1 on Spike TV.
Seventeen year-old Browder was walking home with his friend on May 15, 2010 late one night in the Bronx when he was stopped by a police officer. What started off as a routine "Stop and frisk" turned into an arrest. Browder and his friend were taken to the Bronx County Criminal Court where they were booked and charged with grand larceny, robbery, and assault, all of which Browder and his companion did not do.
From there, Browder was moved to Rikers Island Prison. Known for its massive confinement complexes, Rikers is home to some of the most notorious and vicious criminal in the world. To say Browder did not belong there would be an understatement. He spent over one thousand days (more than three years) at Rikers while he was awaiting trial.
During that time, Browder spent two years in solitary confinement and tried to kill himself numerous times. He was violently beaten by inmates and abused by correctional officers - all of which was released from hacked security footage. When Browder finally got a court date after three years, prosecutors dismissed all of the charges and finally let him go home.
Browder spoke to a few news outlets that picked up his harrowing story of prison time for a crime he did not commit, but he still felt alone. Shortly after his twenty-first birthday, Browder committed suicide, unable to live with the pain and trauma under which he suffered. He was a college student who was getting his life together after it was so brutally ripped from his hands.
In his prophetic masterpiece The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin writes, "I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain." He's right. Human beings cling to hate like moths to a light, terrified of letting it go and experiencing the pain that has happened to them and that they have inflicted upon others.
To the public, Browder was just another black teen killed by the system. Jay-Z, through the docu-series, wants to show that we must never forget Kalief Browder and that we must never forget to #sayhisname. Maybe then, we will be able to shed our fear and start to look at our pain.