Public Advocate Wants Rikers Island Renamed for Kalief Browder

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Some advocates are coming together in hopes of getting Rikers Island name changed to Browder Island.

According to NYDailyNews, as part of the plan to shutdown Rikers Island, Public Advocate Letitia James said Sunday she wants the city to rename the 413-acre island after Kalief Browder, a teenager from the Bronx whose memories of brutality and solitude while behind bars drove him to suicide.

Browder, 22, was charged with stealing a backpack shortly before his 17th birthday on May 16, 2010. The case was never brought to trial and Browder was finally released from jail after three years. Two of those years were spent in solitary confinement.

Browder tied an air conditioner cord around his neck and plunged off the second floor of his parents’ home in June 2015.

“We must do everything in our power to ensure that our criminal justice system is fair, transparent and accountable,” James said during a press conference detailing a commission report that advocates for the island to be shut down.

The press conference was attended by a host of inmate advocates and several elected officials.

Three years at Rikers Island drove Kalief Browder to taking his life following his release from jail. 

 

“Rikers is a mass incarceration model that stains everything that it touches,” said former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who led the 27-member panel that produced the report.

“Rikers is by any standard a penal colony,” he added. “It’s a penal colony. It’s a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem.”

The panel proposes replacing the facilities on Rikers with several smaller jails, one in each of the five boroughs, that are closer to the courthouses. The plan is expected to take at least 10 years and cost an estimated $10.6 billion, according to the report.

Officials from the Staten Island and Queens district attorney offices were noticeably absent from Sunday’s press conference headed by Lippman.

 

Kalief’s older brother had mixed feelings about the idea.

“It’s really appreciative and thoughtful,” said Akeem Browder, 34. “But it’s something we’d have to think over. The people should have this victory.”

Hip hop mogul Jay Z is helping to educate the masses on the horrors of Rikers Island and Kalief’s unfortunate story in the made for tv docuseries Time: Kalief Browder Story.

 

“Thankfully the time has come,” Akeem Browder said. “Maybe people will look at the Kalief Island, if they want to dub it that, and remember the tragedy that my brother went through.”

The island was originally owned by the Rycken family, who had deep ties to slavery.

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The family’s most famous descendant, Richard Riker, was responsible for shipping off fugitive slaves, as well as kidnapped blacks, to the South, according to historians.

Just as the abolitionist movement was gaining momentum, Riker used his deep pockets and influence as a judge to send multiple families back to the South without even a trial, archived records show.

That includes at least one African-American family living freely in New York who were kidnapped and shipped off after a series of hearings before Riker, according to Eric Foner, author of “Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad.”

Mayor de Blasio touted the plan to stop using the island for jails at a Brooklyn church on Sunday.

“Mass incarceration can be ended,” he told worshipers inside Brooklyn’s Christian Cultural Center. “It can be ended if we keep driving down crime, if we have the right approach we can end it. And I want to tell you something about mass incarceration. It didn’t begin here in New York City but it will end here in New York City.”