Sixty-three year old Venida Browder, mother of Kalief Browder, the man who spent three years in Rikers Island for a crime he did not commit, has died of complications of a heart attack.
The Browder family attorney, Paul Prestia told The New York Daily News, Browder died on Friday at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx. Five of her six remaining children were around her during the time of her death.
A little over a year ago, her son Kalief, who was wrongly accused of stealing a backpack, and spent 400 days of his three years in solitary confinement, hung himself with an air conditioning cord in his home in the Bronx.
Browder was 16 hen he was jailed. His family couldn’t afford the $10,000 bail, so Browder remained in Rikers where he was often beaten by guards before the charges were eventually dropped. On several occasions he was offered a plea deal, with time served if he agreed to plead guilty. But because Browder knew he was innocent and refused to do so, he remained, unjustly and unlawfully on Rikers Island.
He became something of an advocate for the crusade against mass incarceration and the justice system at large, appearing in Ava DuVernay’s recently released documentary 13th before he took his life. He said, “If I would have just plead guilty, my story would have never been heard. I would have just been another criminal.”
A couple of weeks ago, Jay Z announced that he was going to produce a six-part documentary on Kalief’s life.
Those who knew Venida spoke of her strength and perseverance.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Veiverito said, “Despite the city failing her and Kalief, she firmly believed that we could work to create a more fair and just system. Venida was a woman of immense courage and boundless optimism. When you were with her, it was impossible to not feel hopeful about a better future. It is now up to us to continue her work.”
Prestia, the family’s lawyer, said, “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. 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.”