After finishing the first segment in the Time: Kalief Browder Story entitled “The Broken System,” I sat for a while in silence and thought about what I had just watched. It was sobering to say the least. What haunted me most was Browder’s eyes…I watched his eyes. From the earlier videos from his arrest to the interviews after he was released, you can see in his eyes that he had lost something that he probably could not describe nor did he know how to get back.
I’m not the same anymore. I’m happy I’m home, but should I really be happy? Because I shouldn’t have been there. It’s crazy because I don’t fit in anymore. Before I fit in.
– Kalief Browder
I knew that Browder like me was from the Bronx but I had forgotten the time in which this happened and when I saw that Browder was arrested in 2010, I remembered what that time had been like for young Black men. I began to recall my encounters with law enforcement during that time and the things to which I had been subjected. I had on more than one occasion been accosted by police – and I say accosted because for most of the incidents I was never indicted of any charges but I was treated like I was being arrested and in one particular situation was actually arrested and spent time in jail for crimes that I did not commit. I have come to know that the reason I came to have these experiences was not due to the broken system.
We say that the system is broken. I think that I’ve come to the realization that it’s doing exactly what it was designed to do and that is to take poor people and people of color and put them out of sight.
– Nick Sandow, Producer, Time: The Kalief Browder Story
Episode 1: The Broken System
The episode zeros in on the legal, cultural and environmental factors that create a framework for young Black men to enter the prison system. One of the things that is now being recognized and openly discussed is the fact that it isn’t a single thing that causes more Black men to be improsoned than any other demographic. This acknowledgement is st the forefront of dismantling the the to prison pipeline. I believe that the pipeline has counted on people not being able to connect the dots. The system has succeeded because for so many years analysis has tried to pinpoint one thing to answer the question of why so many Black men are incarcerated. Some times its been blamed on the individuals, sometimes its been blamed on the flaws of the justice system, sometimes it has been blamed on poverty, sometimes it has been blamed on the environment. But what analysts are now beginning to realize is that it isn’t the one thing; it is the combination of these things that creates a perfect storm from which Black men are not able to escape.
From the impoverished neighborhood where Browder grew up to the laws that allowed a teenager to be tried as an adult at the age of 16- for which NY is one of 2 states to have the age requirement that low- to the fact that if you have enough money (for bail, attorneys and a trial) you are able to avoid the pitfalls of the system and if you cannot you are at the mercy of an institution that has no interest in our well being. These colliding factors create a whirlpool wherein many Black males cannot out swim.
The reason I had to look him in his eyes was because I remember how my eyes had changed after so many of those experiences and I know that what I had experienced, while any of them could have easily turned in a similar direction, paled in comparison to what this young man had endured.
I have often looked at the eyes of our elders – I’m talking about our grandparents and great grandparents. And their eyes seem faded. It’s almost like their eyes have seen too many horrors to remain the same. As if witnessing so many atrocities and surviving so many traumas has somehow stole the light from their eyes. Maybe it’s because we never really recover from the things that we’ve seen. Perhaps that is the cost of survival.
The first episode of this documentary series sets a framework for understanding the way the system and the factors that were at play to come together and create the unjust and traumatic experience that Kalief suffered. They illustrated some his strained family relationships and the discovery that he was adopted and how that led him to the streets where he received the felony charged which placed him on probation. They looked at the legal system itself and how it is leveraged against Black males and the way that it treats people with charges on their background. And it explored the way that people from low income backgrounds often find themselves powerless against the legal system. So far the documentary seems intelligent, informed and thoughtful. I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the next episodes.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man