“Kalief Browder’s story is really a very important story to tell” – Spike TV president Kevin Kay opened up the press conference alongside Jay-Z and Harvey Weinstein for the announcement of their new six part docs-series – TIME: The Kalief Browder Story.
The stories of injustice against people of colour in America is becoming way too regular; and the lack of prosecution for those committing these crimes in the public eye is woefully becoming draining and hopeless. However with shows like ‘The Night Of’ and now the story of Kalief Browder being told through the eyes of those present will most definitely impact change in our communities through conversation and art.
Having already teamed up to do the Richard Pryor biopic as well at the Emmitt Till story for HBO, Jay Z and the Weinstein Company along with Spike TV—who also have long history of documenting important moments and provoking wider conversation – will be bringing the incredibly unjustified story of Kalief Browder to life. The tragic story of Kalief is also a personally emotional one for Jay Z — “I look at him as a modern day prophet”. Kalief allegedly stole a backpack and was jailed when sixteen years old for three years at Rikers Island, with no trial, two of which he spent in solitary confinement— later released in 2013 after multiple postponed court dates he was never convicted of the crime.
During the press conference Jay Z recounted the first time he met Kalief, after reading a profile of him in The New Yorker, and then his reaction the day he heard the news of his suicide. Jay Z had made it a point to connect with him after his release from Rikers Island “I just wanted to give him words of encouragement, I saw his story and I’m proud of him for making it through and to keep pushing. He told me he was going to college.”
According to The New Yorker, Browder had attempted to take his own life in 2011 after being in jail just ten months. He recalls in a deposition what happened; “Browder replied, the correction officers was telling me, ‘Go ahead and jump, you got it ready, right, go ahead and jump.’ And by then I was scared to jump. I never committed suicide before, and I was scared to jump. They said, ‘If you don’t jump, we’re going to go in there anyway, so you might as well go ahead and jump, go ahead and jump. You want to commit suicide, so go ahead.’ I didn’t jump, and they ended up coming in my cell anyway.” Kalief committed suicide in 2015.
You could feel the ache of the loss of Kalief, as Jay Z continued, “In the movies, when this type of story is told, it ends differently, then I got a call telling me that Kalief had taken his own life. I was thrown. I was asking myself, man, this story doesn’t end like this. It’s not supposed to end this way. That’s not how this story goes, not in the movies, not in real life.”
Kalief endured violence and unspeakable actions by the hands of inmates and guards and through it all he still managed to position himself at the right place in prison to be seen on camera. Producer Harvey Weinstein said that he was told “Kalief was smart enough to known where the camera and when he was dragged off to get beaten he goes back to the where the camera was, he had that innate sense and foresight that this was going to happen. Director Jena Furst (Brick City, Chicago Land) when asked about the integration of footage explained how important it was to show the clock. He added that “his (Kalief) life took a dramatic turn and that’s how fragile his life was and is for many young men and young people of colour in America that one simple second one five minutes interaction can change your life forever and change and it did for Kalief Browder.”
Browder’s Mother who is on now on the board of Stop Solitary for Kids; a national campaign to end solitary confinement for juveniles and young adults in prison shared “it’s too late unfortunately for my son Kalief, but it will definitely benefit other youths so they don’t have to endure what my son did.”
Judgement is the enemy of compassion.
Jay Z made a very important statement when asked by a CNN reporter about his thoughts on Police brutality. He touched on the fervent use of police body-cameras and how it creates distrust. With social media being at a highest point in documenting social injustices, Jay Z highlighted the brokenness within the justice system.
“When you have compassion for what someone goes through—we’re all looking for a short embrace at time. Judgement is the enemy of compassion. When you are able to identify that…we’re all not perfect, we may make mistakes. All of us, every single one of us. When you have compassion for what someone’s going through and their plight, my personal belief, having the camera on someone creates more distrust. When we have an exchange and it has to be recorded, something’s wrong there, something’s broken. A camera can’t fix a relationship between a person that’s hired to protect and serve and society. There has to be a relationship. There has to be respect on both sides.”
With Kalief story being so timely and moving and incredibly unfortunate he was still able to influence and effect change. In 2015 President Barack Obama’s administration took steps towards the implications of solitary confinement and bringing an end to it; Jay Z adds— “Obama talked about a crime bill eliminating solitary confinement for minors, and I knew that was for Kalief.” – his story impacted change.
Time: The Kalief Browder Story is expected to land January 2017 on Spike TV.