Venida Browder, whose son Kalief committed suicide last year after being detained at Rikers Island for three years without a conviction, died on Friday at age 63 from complications of a heart attack. Her lawyer, Paul Prestia, told the New York Daily News that he believed she “literally died of a broken heart.”
In 2010, Kalief Browder, then 16, was accused of stealing a backpack, a claim he adamantly denied. After being charged with robbery, grand larceny and assault, he was taken to Rikers and held on $3000 bail. Because his family could not afford it, and because of the labyrinthine nature of the Bronx courts, Kalief Browder was imprisoned for three years, most of it in solitary, before his case was dismissed. He told the New Yorker in an October 6, 2014 issue, “Being home is way better than being in jail. But in my mind right now I feel like I’m still in jail, because I’m still feeling the side effects from what happened in there.” In June of 2015, Kalief Browder, then 22, hung himself.
Venida Browder had taken up the mantle for justice for her son, both while he was still alive and posthumously; last September, she and her family filed a $22 million wrongful death suit against the City of New York. Prestia spoke to the Daily News about the toll it took on her:
“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,” Prestia said Sunday.
“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.”
In April, Venida spoke with NPR about her son—who had also attempted suicide multiple times while imprisoned at Rikers—and how solitary confinement had changed him, and was ultimately responsible for his death. “I don’t want another mother to have to spend a lifetime sentence like I am,” she said. “I mourn every day.”
In January, Spike TV will air a six-part documentary on Kalief Browder, produced by Jay Z. Just last week, Venida sat with Jay during a press conference about the series. Below, via VIBE, Jay introduces her and she speaks about Stop Solitary for Kids, a campaign to end youth solitary confinement.
“It’s too late, unfortunately, for my son Kalief,” she said, “but it will definitely benefit other youths, so that they don’t have to endure what my son did.”