‘Time: The Kalief Browder Story’ shows failure of justice system

Stephon Johnson | 3/2/2017, midnight
Kalief Browder isn’t the only young, Black person to have been failed by the justice system overall.
Kalief Browder

Kalief Browder isn’t the only young, Black person to have been failed by the justice system overall. He might, however, be one of the first to have been failed by every level of the system.

The significance of said failure can be demonstrated via “Time: The Kalief Browder Story,” which premiered March 1 at 10 p.m. on Spike TV. Browder came up under surveillance, a foster kid born to a crack-addicted mother and taken by Child Protective Services, and later left under the surveillance of the criminal justice system.

The six-part documentary presents Browder the person as opposed to Browder the symbol for injustice. By accomplishing this, it puts his eventual fate in a harsher light and points to a direct failure of politicians, law enforcement, government bureaucracy, capitalism and racism. Policies enforced (or ignored) by former New York City mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg are held as responsible for failing Browder. Former Corrections Officer Benevolent Association President Norman Seabrook’s pushback against any sort of reform involving his constituents or places such as Rikers is held responsible. The corrections officers who participated in what’s infamously known as “The Program” are held as responsible. Bail bondsmen who profit off those who can’t afford bail on their own are held as responsible.

But, according to “Time” director Jenner Furst, “The bad guys aren’t the COs, but something much scarier. It’s the people who have made an economy out of criminalizing the poor.”

The first two episodes of the documentary were screened at NeueHouse on the east side of Manhattan Tuesday night. Afterward, a panel moderated by New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres discussed Browder’s legacy with Furst along with some of Browder’s family members, Browder’s lawyer Paul Prestia, executive producer Julia Willoughby Mason and actor/filmmaker Nick Sandow.

Sandow, best known as assistant warden Joe Caputo on the Netflix show “Orange is the New Black,” wrote the documentary after being inspired by the famous New Yorker article about Browder.

“I read Kalief’s story and when I heard of his passing, it just got me in a way that I wanted to help in some way,” said Sandow. He said he then cold-called Prestia after seeing his name in the New Yorker piece and asked if there was anything he could do to help.

“I remember that call,” Prestia told the crowd. “It was probably two days after Kalief had taken his life. A lot was happening at the time. We talked about it and eventually we met and it just felt right.”

Browder’s sister, Nicole, told the audience that he was just like any little brother: equal parts annoying and loving. He was also attentive.

“A lot of things that we talked about when we were younger, we would try to keep as a secret,” said Nicole. “He knew exactly what we were talking about. He grasped a lot of things.” Nicole painted her brother as an inquisitive kid pre-Rikers. Post-Rikers he was a bit different. She told a story of visiting home and seeing him walking around forming a rectangle in the front yard. When she asked her mom, Venida (who died in 2016), what he was doing, she said he was mimicking the size of his “box” during solitary confinement.