When I Learned of Kalief Browder

for SSATBB Chorus

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In May 2010, sixteen-year-old Kalief Browder was accused of robbery, arrested, and imprisoned on Rikers Island in New York to await trial. He was there for three years, much of the time in solitary confinement. Pressured to plead guilty, he insisted he was innocent and wanted to go to court.

Eventually the case was dismissed, but Browder struggled to re-adjust to the world outside of jail. In June 2015, suffering persistent depression and anxiety, he ended his life.

Shortly afterward, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote, “The senseless destruction of this individual must necessarily be laid at the feet of the citizens of New York, because it was done by our servants, and it was done in our name.” After so many people treated Kalief Browder as though his life didn’t matter, this song is a small way of protesting that it did.

Text by Rebekah Driscoll:

We the people
sent a teenage boy to prison. 
There was never any trial.

We isolated and abused him 
as he waited to be heard, 
three years.

We wrongfully took his life—
we the people of the city of New York!
When will we stop taking the lives of our sons?

Proceeds from the sale of this music will be donated to the Bronx Defenders.