Honor Kalief and Venida Browder by raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18: Editorial
Source: Lohud, The Journal News
The news was just too shocking and ridiculously unfair not to be true.
Venida Browder, 63, had died of a heart attack.
The Bronx mother’s journey to criminal justice advocate followed a sadly familiar path: borne of pain, she worked for a better, fairer justice system, so other mothers will not know the pain she had experienced.
Six of her seven children survive her. The other child was Kalief Browder, the young man whose name became synonymous with the failures of a New York criminal justice system that left a 16-year-old, accused but never convicted of a nonviolent crime, to rot.
The New York Daily News, which first reported Venida Browder’s Oct. 14 death, said she died of a broken heart. Who could doubt it?
Kalief Browder died by suicide in June 2015. He was just 22. Already, though, he had endured senseless cruelty that even Kafka couldn’t fathom: he was accused of a theft, at age 16, with no evidence. Bail was set at $3,000, but his family couldn’t pay it. He was sent to Rikers Island, New York City’s main jail complex, awaiting a trial that never occurred. After three years, the theft charge was simply dropped, but only after Browder had suffered hundreds of days in solitary confinement and beatings by both guards and adult inmates.
The story of Browder’s brutal mistreatment, and a callous system that allowed it to happen, led to changes. New York City’s mayor ruled that juveniles jailed in Rikers cannot be placed in solitary; the Justice Department sued the New York City jail to push reforms forward. In January, President Obama banned solitary confinement in federal prisons for juvenile prisoners, and as punishment for low-level infractions.
But these changes are far from enough. Who can believe that jailing people, for years, without trial, could happen in New York at all, let alone as a common part of procedure?
The state Senate still failed to pass “Kalief’s Law” last session, which would ensure a speedy trial by providing more detailed regulations for how long someone can be held before court proceedings. A speedy trial is among the first subjects addressed in the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
New York also must raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18. The state is one of just two in the nation that automatically prosecutes 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Kalief Browder, just 16, should have never set foot in Rikers.
Kalief and Venida Browder went through a hell on Earth, because their government institutions, designed to uphold justice, blithely perpetuated injustice. A young man’s broken spirit could never heal, a mother could not save her child. Both were both torn apart, and now both are lost. We must do better.
October 19, 2016