Venida Browder, 63, died Friday at a New York City hospital from complications after suffering a heart attack, her lawyer announced on Sunday. She is the mother of Kaleif Browder, who in 2015 at age 22, committed suicide in his apartment after having spent more than three brutal years inside the jail at Rikers Island awaiting a trial for a crime he did not commit. At 16, Kaleif was arrested after being accused of stealing a backpack. His family was unable to post a $3,000 bail and the teen was sent to Rikers, where he would spend more than 1,000 days in detention — 800 of them in solitary confinement. Kaleif always maintained his innocence.
While he was incarcerated there, Kaleif was subjected to numerous beatings by guards and other inmates. Some of the incidents were captured on security footage. His trial was postponed a mind-boggling 31 times. Eventually, the charges were dropped, but after Kaleif was released at age 19, he was never the same. He enrolled in classes at Bronx Community College, but bouts of severe depression landed him in a psychiatric hospital. The night before he committed suicide, he left a note for his mother Venida, saying, “Ma, I can’t take it anymore.”
In January, Venida appeared onstage at the Women in the World founder Tina Brown’s American Justice Summit. In an interview with ABC moderator Juju Chang, Venida, alongside her lawyer Paul Pestia, discussed her son’s tragic plight inside the legal system. Kalief was offered several plea deals throughout the three-year ordeal — including one that would have allowed him to leave prison immediately — but he refused to accept any of them.
“He didn’t do it and he stood his ground,” Venida explained. “He wanted a trial to prove his innocence. He was a determined person, and if he felt he was right, he was going to fight for it.”
In a statement announcing her death, Pestia said of Venida, “She was a woman of incredible grace and compassion who tirelessly fought for justice for her son Kalief and who championed the civil rights of others in our city. But the stress from this crusade coupled with the strain of the pending lawsuits against the city and the pain from the death were too much to for her to bear. In my opinion she literally died of a broken heart.”
Watch the complete discussion with Venida Browder in the video below.
Read the full story at The New York Daily News.