Dear Kalief Browder; A Homeboy’s Open Letter
By Jayy Dodd
Note: Kalief Browder was falsely accused of burglary at 16 years old, held in Riker’s Island prison and after 3 years out committed suicide.
Dear Kalief Browder,
Brother man, I wish you peace from this world that told you daily you weren’t human. I wish comfort and care to your family who is grieving. Though Black folks hearts are heavy with trauma, your death will not be in vain.
Earlier this year, a dear friend of my overdosed after trying to survive years of depression and trauma. Of the fraction I feel comfortable saying I know about his pain, I could locate similarities in my own and multitude of other personal hurts. As someone who lives with depression and anxiety, I remember the sickness of grief and jealous that plagued me in the days after he passed. Grief for the loss of a friend, and unspoken jealousy that he was finally free. He would never have to face the terror in which Blackness has been painted again. Any physical pain gone, any emotional hurt released. Kalief, Black boys are both tortured through incarceration and policed into fear in public, every day you attempted to survive mattered. While you could no longer take it, so much me of bears witness to you.
You didn’t get to see 23. You won’t get to see how our generation changes the world. You were not allowed to grow and laugh and regret your teens. You were not allowed to be a child. You were denied the possibility of young adulthood, the woes and joys of surviving in this age. I cannot imagine the three year terror of torture and abuse. We as a people have varying levels of knowledge to the horrors of the carceral state, so I could not even entertain patronizing with empathy.
I am filled rage that our language of justice yet again proved fallacy. That such flagrant and callous abuse of the “legal” system broke your will. While we may never know the depths or vocabularies of your hurt, we see the effects. We see how the world outside did no better than the world inside. We see how trauma can eviscerate Black life.
If anything, brother, I wish we knew. I wish our people had a critical mass of awareness, then, to rally and support. But the system that killed you, divides us, denies us the power to speak freely, though thankfully we are finding new ways. We have developed new tongues and means of organizing for justice, rest knowing your death will not be in vain.
It is unfair to assume or believe, that just because Black folks have survived abject horror, we are beyond fatalistic thought. Folks don’t see us as human. They didn’t see you as human. We see you Kalief, unconditionally. We see you as a young man that deserved possibility. I see you as a homeboy I could have known. Your family sees you as a son they were blessed to have. All we can do now is offer you peace in rest and promise action from our movement.
In the words of fellow incarcerated brother George Jackson: “They have learned that resistance is actually possible. The holds are beginning to slip away.” We will show them their holds are decomposing. We will show them your possibility.