The mother of the late Kalief Browder died from complications of a heart attack, a lawyer for the family told the New York Daily News Sunday.
Venida Browder, 63, passed away Friday at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, according to her lawyer Paul Prestia. Browder’s death comes one year after her son, 22-year-old Kalief, killed himself after serving three years behind bars at Rikers Island.
“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 of the late Venida. “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.”
Kalief was just 16 years old when he was jailed at Rikers in May 2010, after another teen accused him of stealing his book bag. Because his family was unable to make the $3,000 bail, young Browder spent three years at the notorious prison. He was never convicted of a crime.
While behind bars, the teen was subjected to violence at the hands of prison guards and other young inmates. Disturbing video footage dated Sept. 23, 2012 showed a corrections officer slamming Browder to the ground, dragging him from his cell to the showers. He also spent a total of 400 hours locked away in solitary confinement, the Bronx’s News 12 reports.
The charges against Browder were ultimately dropped, and he was released from prison in June 2013. He later enrolled at the Bronx Community College to start to his new life, but the trauma he suffered while in prison proved to be too much. Browder hanged himself with an air conditioning cord at his Bronx home on June 6, 2015.
According to the New Yorker, Browder struggled through bouts of depression and tried to commit suicide on multiple occasions while at Rikers. The evening before his suicide, he reportedly told his mother, “Ma, I can’t take it anymore.”
Browder’s case is ultimately what prompted New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to end solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-olds at the scandalous city prison, the New York Daily News reports.
Venida Browder’s death comes just weeks after rapper Jay Z announced plans to produce a docuseries on Kalief’s life, highlighting the many issues within the U.S. criminal justice system.
“I look at Kalief as a modern-day prophet,” Jay said of the late man at a press conference announcing the project. “Kalief’s is the kind of story you can’t ignore. It’s our job to use our voice to get these stories out so we can have a discussion about it. And we can move forward and fix things ’cause it’s broken currently.”