Thursday, May 13, 2021

John Legend Says ‘New York Failed Kalief Browder’

john legend & kalief browder
John Legend & Kalief Browder

*The news of 22-year-old Kalief Browder’s suicide on June 6 forced us to pause and examine New York City’s shady court and prison system. Browder, who was incarcerated at age 16 in 2010 for an alleged robbery, without a trial, was about to return to court to face new charges, but the mental abuse he endured while inside Rikers Island took a toll on the young man, who decided death was a better option than a life of ill-treatment within the prison’s walls.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Browder’s lawyer, Paul Prestia, said the cause for his death was likely due to the harsh and unsanitary conditions of solitary confinement, where Browden was placed for two out of the three years of his sentence. The mental strains he encountered of “Being starved, and not being taken to the shower for two weeks at a time … those were direct contributing factors …That was the pain and sadness that he had to deal with every day, and I think it was too much for him,” Prestia said.

The news recently sparked a response from musician John Legend, who wrote a moving essay on the occurrence for Vulture:

New York failed Kalief. The list of things that went wrong in his case begins with his first encounter with the NYPD, whose practice of targeting black teens is well documented. The idea that being accused of stealing a backpack would lead to his arrest and detention would be absurd if it weren’t actually tragic. He should not have been tried as an adult, or had prosecutors, defenders, and judges so overwhelmed with cases that he waited three years for trial, violating his constitutional right to swift justice. He should not have been held in an adult jail where he would spend 700 to 800 days of those three years in solitary confinement. He should not have spent one day being abused by guards or the others incarcerated there.

You can read John’s entire piece here.

Ny MaGee
Ny MaGee is a screenwriter and freelance reporter from Chicago -- currently living in Los Angeles and covering A-list entertainment for various outlets, including She has worked for: Miramax, MTV & VH1, The Jim Henson Company, Hallmark Channel, Paramount Pictures, and for iconic indie film producer Roger Corman.



  1. Not only did New York failed Kalief, but also did the US DOJ. But that’s what happens when you have either a Republican administration, or Republican ass kissing Democrats like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. The US DOJ should have intervened a long time ago and prosecute the judges and prosecutors who maintain the Rikers Island practice of setting bail too high for less than wealthy people to afford, then letting them stew in prison without a trial until they are ready to agree to a plea deal for crimes they didn’t even commit.

    • Excuse after excuse is made as to why he was in his situation that led him to tragically take his own life. Not once have I heard anyone really say who failed this person who CHOSE to live the way he lived. Yes, the system sucks!, so don’t get caught up in things that will land you in a well known horrible place. What got him put into solitary, something. What had him put in jail on several other occasions, something. I guess it was New York that caused it, right John.

      • Lindsey, are you trying to say Kalief CHOSE to be in the position he was in? You couldn’t be more wrong.

        He was ACCUSED of stealing a backpack, not convicted. Cops never found the backpack and there was no evidence he ever took it. He sat on Riker’s Island for three years, rejecting plea deal after plea deal, which points to his innocence, because what guilty person wouldn’t take a plea and go home? He spent three years waiting for trial, as prosecutors kept pushing back dates. He spent three years on Riker’s Island being abused by inmates and guards and battling depression, all for a damn backpack. He missed the prom, h.s. graduation, entering college as a freshman, all for a backpack. Even if he was guilty, there’s no reason a 16 year old should do three years for stealing a backpack.

        And for the record, it’s quite easy to be sent to solitary when you’re surrounded by inmates who are in gangs, when you aren’t. There are quite a few stories of Riker’s Island CO’s being affiliated with gangs or gang sympathizers. There’s video of Kalief being beat up on Riker’s by inmates, while CO’s did little to stop them. There’s even video of the CO’s beating up Kalief.

        John Legend is right. New York in general, and the Bronx County judicial system in particular, failed Kalief.

        • These are the comments that the privileged class have the luxury of making. It’s not there problem. Whites don’t have to worry about finding themselves in this situation.
          92 percent of the Rikers population is black or Hispanic, even though 71% of under-18’s arrested in NY are white.

          Whites don’t have to worry about stop and frisk, even though the data shows that they are the ones most likely to be carrying weapons, drugs and contraband. So if Kalief was white, it’s very unlikely that he would be accused of stealing a back pack in the first place, arrested, and most unlikely would he ever end up on Rikers.


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