suicide and the justice system: a letter to the memory of kalief browder

March 2, 2017
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Dear Kalief,

You were a beautiful young black man gone too soon, I still cry for you. I ball my fist up in anger when I think of what they did to you. You were just a kid when your nightmare started. A sixteen-year-old black male, falsely accused of a crime you never committed. You were lied on, push to the side, beaten by inmates and cops, and mentally broken down to the core.

They beat the life out of you. They mentally drained you, until you felt no other way out. Even after you left Rikers Island you weren’t free, they still held you in a jail cell mentally. You tried to end your life constantly until you became successful in the attempt. You died by suicide, but it’s the justice system that really killed you. None of this was your fault.

I’m not sure if people understand that mental abuse is far worse than a broken bone, or a bad case of the flu. You can mend a bone, and you can get over the flu, but the things you endured on Rikers Island never had an off switch in your brain. You couldn’t just think those horrible things away with positive thoughts.

By Jasmin Pierre*, AFROPUNK contributor

I could only imagine the mental anguish you had to endure each day. The thoughts that went through your mind, the panic attacks that never went away, and the trips you took to the psych ward. All because the justice system failed you, and never gave a damn of what may become of you. I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve any of this, and neither did your family. My heart still aches when I think of your mother. The system killed her too. The heart attack she endured came from a broken heart.

I know many black mothers have a fear of losing their child to the system. Her fear became a nightmare that couldn’t be escaped. You didn’t deserve this! I know I keep saying that, but you truly didn’t. I know you wanted your story to be told because you wanted to prevent this from happening again. You didn’t want another young black man lost and tortured in the system. I’m glad your documentary is being highlighted right now.

More people need to know your name. We need to know more of your story, and we definitely need to be aware. Your story is vital to the mental health of the black community. The pain you endured was a tragedy, but it is further informing us how screwed up this system is. As a mental health advocate, and a caring human being your story still truly hurts me to the core. I realize how much work still needs to be done.

You may be gone Kalief, but your tragedy cannot be forgotten. We are still learning more about your story years later, and now we must do more to prevent something like this from happening again. I hate that you had to be a martyr, and I don’t want anymore of them in the future.

In closing, I just want you to know that you were strong. You were never weak. You endured pain that some people couldn’t imagine if they lived to see three lifetimes. You didn’t take the easy way out. You didn’t punk out. I’m not saying suicide is the answer, but it is not an easy decision like some people think. You were in so much pain. Some people couldn’t imagine the pain you had in their wildest dreams. I’m sad you felt you needed to go, but you were never weak. Your tragedy could have been prevented if this system wasn’t so flawed. The system killed you, that’s who I truly blame.

*Jasmin Pierre is a Mental Health Activist, Motivational Speaker, and author of “A Fight Worth Finishing”. She is from New Orleans, Louisiana. Jasmin is constantly fighting for the rights of those suffering from depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. She is a future life coach, and aspires to continue writing, speaking, and encouraging others to never give up.

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