Students react to a six-part documentary series about Kalief Browder

By Batul Cutlerywala

DeKALB — The Center for Black Studies and the Latino Resource Center began Black History Month Tuesday with a documentary series about the Kalief Browder Story.

The documentary series is an ongoing event that explores concerns about mass incarceration, mental health and police brutality for those in minority communities. The event will alternate between the Center for Black Studies and the Latino Resource Center every Tuesday through February.

Browder’s life ended in 2015 after suffering from mental illnesses after being wrongly imprisoned under suspicion of stealing a backpack. He served three years in Rikers Island, New York’s largest prison complex, without ever being convicted of the crime.

The Center for Black Studies and Latino Resource Center collaborated with the Black Student Union, Gamma Phi Omega International Sorority Inc., The Ladies of Distinction, Student Association, Supporting Opportunities for Latinos (S.O.L.), B.R.O.T.H.E.R.S., Black Male Initiative and the Latino Student Alliance for this presentation.

Melanie Sandoval, Center for Black Studies graduate assistant, said the center wanted to tie the documentary into “Black Heritage Month” and intends to have additional events throughout the semester.

“The Kalief Browder story shows us the importance of pursuing the truth,” Sandoval said. “It is important to keep students engaged and aware that these situations are going on even today, and after pursuing the truth, to be able to make a difference.”

Sandoval said she thinks the way Browder was brought into that situation was because he was profiled by his background and because of the way he looked.

Jose Gonzalez, S.O.L president, said he learned the higher ups in New York “were turning poverty and low-income problems into imprisonment problems” that morph into a revenue system.

The documentary shows footage of correctional officers using solitary confinement to discipline the prisoners during their sentence. The attendees had a lot to say about the wrongdoings of the judicial system.

“The fact that solitary confinement still exists is clearly a sign that mental health professionals aren’t in the correctional institutions,” Gonzalez said. “They still decide to put people in there for punishment instead of not thinking about fixing the problem in a way that’s better for them, everyone surrounding them and for society, too.”

Graduate student Christine Diaz Luna said she realized there was an absence of responsibility from those who operate Rikers Island and disregarded prisoners’ lives.

“A lot of institutions now have a very negative approach to try to restructure people’s minds for society, and they don’t, to be honest. They kind of push them further down the edge,” Gonzalez said.