The life and suicide of Kalief Browder: A victim of Mike Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk

February 12, 2020 at 01:00 pm | News, Opinions & Features

Nii Ntreh

Nii Ntreh | Staff Writer

February 12, 2020 at 01:00 pm | News, Opinions & Features

Former New York City mayor, Mike Bloomberg has acknowledged the challenges that stem from systemic and institutional structures hindering the welfare of America’s black people.

In a pitch to African-Americans in Tulsa, Oklahoma in late January, the billionaire and White House hopeful explained his understanding of how being white helped his chances of success.

“I also know that my story might have turned out very differently if I had been black, and that more black Americans of my generation would have ended up with far more wealth, had they been white,” Bloomberg told the congregation.

Before this epiphany, Bloomberg had already sought absolution for overseeing and encouraging the unpopular policing method of stop-and-frisk during his three-term reign as mayor between 2002 and 2014.

Whether or not he would be forgiven is something we can only tell after the votes have come in from Oklahoma, Georgia, South Carolina among other states with big black populations.

Currently, Bloomberg is polling at 22% favorability with black Democrats, five points behind Joe Biden and three ahead of Bernie Sanders in a recent Quinnipiac University poll.

But audio of an interview from 2015 that has resurfaced as part of the primaries might change all of that and further bolster the skeptic’s case against Bloomberg’s ability to confront racial inequalities.

In the audio, Bloomberg at the Aspen Institute was answering questions on his record as a mayor. When it came to stop-and-frisk, the former mayor said: “Ninety-five percent of your murders and murderers and murder victims” fit the same profile. You can just take the description and Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male minorities 16 to 25.”

He continued: “One of the unintended consequences is people say, ‘Oh my God, you are arresting kids for marijuana that are all minorities.’ Yes, that is true. Why? Because we put all the cops in the minority neighborhoods. Yes, that is true. Why did we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is.”

In another interview, whose video is also available, Bloomberg also said that he felt the likely perpetrators of crime meant that white people were the true victims of the inconveniences of stop-and-frisk.

Bloomberg, in response to the backlash generated by the video, has continued to ask for forgiveness and even alleged that he reduced the incidents of stop-and-frisk by 95%.

Unfortunately, what is more important is often lost in the haze of politics and the rationalizations. In this case, it is putting a face to the story where statistics tends to be impersonal and removed from emotions.

As such, the story of Kalief Browder, although quite known, is a constant and potent reminder of who bears the brunt of the politics of the rich and powerful.

Browder hung himself on June 6, 2015, at home less than two weeks after his 22nd birthday. The Bronx resident was a young man but his was also a life loaded with more pain than others could have in three lifetimes.

Ten days before his 17th birthday in 2010, Browder was arrested along with a friend. Browder would later say he thought their interaction with the police was a simple stop-and-frisk procedure.

He had become used to that growing up in the Bronx. A young black man or Latino was more likely to be stopped under the stop-and-frisk program by New York police.

A Mexican, Roberto Bautista, had reported that a backpack containing certain valuables had been stolen a fortnight before. Bautista identified Browder and his friend as culprits.

Browder protested the arrest and insisted that he had done nothing wrong. 17 hours in police custody, he was interrogated after which he was charged with robbery, grand larceny, and assault.

When he was taken to court, he was charged with second-degree robbery with bail set at $3,000. Browder’s family could not afford the amount and even after they had borrowed it from a neighbor, he was still denied bail because he was on probation from a previous case.

Browder was one of seven biological children born to a crack-addicted mother. Five of the children were given up in adoptions and Kalief ended up with Venida Browder.

The first time the young man fell foul of the law, he was 16 and had been charged with third-degree larceny. Browder convicted as an adult and afterward, registered as a youthful offender.

He ended up at Rikers after he was denied bail. Between 2010 and 2013, Browder was kept in solitary confinement awaiting his trial.

Eventually, the prosecutor decided the state had no case against Browder. The teenager had spent three years behind bars – a result ensured by poverty and institutional racism.

When Browder committed suicide in 2015, he left a visceral reel that confirmed that he had been scarred by the experience at Rikers, among which included physical and sexual assault.

Holding Bloomberg accountable for Browder’s death has some emotional appeal but it is nonetheless a paperweight argument.

These days, he promises that he is a new man – and one can actually believe that – but it can prove costlier to forget what Bloomberg has always represented until he decided to run for president.

What the Browder story shows us is that the dignity and humanity of America’s poor, usually black and brown people, have been weighed by the moneyed class and found expendable.

African-Americans may do well to exercise their franchise with that thought in mind.

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