Kalief Browder Deniers Solve Nothing
June 15, 2015 (Mimesis Law) Fault Lines writer Cristian Farias slums over at New York Magazine when he’s not penning stuff for a more, ahem, prestigious outlet. This past week, he wrote about the case of Kalief Browder, a teenager who spent three years on the Rock before being cut loose, his case dismissed. He is now dead.
Cristian’s post was titled, How All New Yorkers Killed Kalief Browder. While the author of the post doesn’t get to pick his own headline, and headlines are, to some extent, framed for the purpose of getting people to read what follows, this one pretty much nailed Cristian’s point.
In the narrow focus, Kalief Browder committed suicide. In the broader focus, Kalief Browder’s suicide was brought about by the hell he experienced in the system. But in the broadest focus, the system is us. We killed Kalief Browder.
Don’t start sweating. No cop will knock on your door with an arrest warrant. It’s not that we are legally culpable for Kalief’s death. We are, however, culpable for a legal system that put in place the barriers, one after another after another, that led inextricably to a young man taking his own life.
No doubt, there were other influences involved, as no one commits suicide for only the reasons that are obvious from the outside. But ceteris parabus, everything else is on our shoulders.
Yet, the reaction to Cristian’s post was, well, shocking.
Title of this article is very misleading. New Yorkers did kill Mr. Browder. New York City/New York State and the Federal Government all financed by the 1% killed Mr. Browder.
So was this Kalief Browder’s fault? He was a New Yorker, of voting age. This is nonsense. When you trot out this “it was EVERYONE’S fault” line, what you do is absolve the actual people who were at fault. And you do it by putting the blame on the victims.
This author is a damn liar! Tell me now, do you support this cracker bullshit? Do you like seeing innocent people murdered by police and a paying for a prison system that causes mental illnesses? If so answer yes, if not answer no. I just don’t believe Americans want any of this crap, Christian Farias.
I cannot get past the title. And I won’t go beyond the first page. No, “we” are not all at fault. They are not our “servants” doing our bidding. They are employed by the State of New York which has a bureaucracy which is dangerously screwed up. I think that when arguments are based on “we are all at fault” they are the weakest arguments because it turns away all but those who like to feel guilty but do nothing.
It’s not that any of these comments were uncritical of what happened to Kalief, but that they rejected, vehemently, the implication that they had anything to do with it. In the good old “us against them,” they picked the “not me” side.
Does the “we are all at fault” theme serve to diffuse responsibility over too broad a group so that those whose fingers were actually wrapped around Kalief’s neck are absolved of personal responsibility for their role in this fiasco? From one perspective, it does.
There are degrees of responsibility, and those who made active decisions, horribly bad decisions or just facile decisions that served their interest at the time are certainly more directly responsible for what they did than those who aren’t in a position to directly affect much of anything.
But then, the angry denials of responsibility miss the boat as well. The litany of things that went wrong in Kalief Browder’s case was nothing new. Granted, pretty much everything that could go wrong, that could be blown, that could destroy a life, that could happen to Kalief and suck the sanity out of him, did. That confluence of horribles doesn’t happen too often.
Each element of the system that crashed down on the head of Kalief Browder was in place for a reason, and the nice folks who put it there did so in our name. They crafted laws and procedures to protect us from crime and capture the criminal. They hired men and women, and outfitted them with shields and weapons. They hired more men and women, kids actually, and gave them vast discretion to decide whom to prosecute, who needed bail because they couldn’t be trusted to return to court. And there were judges, too, who get to be called “Your Honor” because our system may not be perfect, but, well, you know the rest.
You can blame it on the 1% protecting their turf from the groundlings, but you’re lying to yourself. One percent can’t win an election. It takes more than 50% of the voters to do that, and even if you voted against the power oligarchy, your parents and your neighbors didn’t.
Then, there is the never-ending stream of stories of good and evil in the legal system, and you are happy to embrace the bad when it applies to someone you hate, whether because they’re a cop, a hater or someone who did something to you personally. Where was your outrage when the system failed, but you liked the outcome?
So don’t worry about an arrest warrant being issued for you. It’s not happening, and no one will ask you, either at the cocktail party at the club or the rave, how you sleep at night knowing what you did to Kalief Browder. But to deny that we’re all in this together, and that what happened to Kalief is the rare, but inevitable, outcome of a system to which we all contribute in one way or another, is the lie.
Cristian was right, we are all responsible, because we are all laboring oars in a system that caused the death of Kalief Browder. Suck it up and do something more productive than angrily denying it. There is no easy answer to how to fix it, but shirking responsibility clearly won’t work.