I need a late pass; I only recently saw Get Out. Like last night. Almost a month after its release I finally managed to make it to see the movie that everybody is talking about. The hype is justified and any Black males dating white women will probably be donning a perennial side-eye whether they like it or not. And also, I’m guessing that there will be a whole lot more questions asked of our fairer complexioned mates anytime the subject of going out of town for the first time together comes up on some “sorry, not sorry, trying not to die in the woods because white people want Black bodies” shit.
Get Out was wildly entertaining and not nearly as scary as I expected it to be. I’m not a horror movie person at all. In fact, I ONLY went to see it because literally everybody’s been talking about it and everybody I know who has seen it has explicitly told me that I need to do the same. Otherwise, I’d have passed because I don’t like sleeping with my nightlight on. Not that I have one. It’s my son’s really. With his scary self. Kids, man. Kids.
But while it took me a long time to see Get Out, what I have been watching is TIME: The Kalief Browder Story airing Wednesdays on SpikeTV (and BET). That, my friends, is a real horror story. Because it’s real. Because it’s scary. Because we already know how this story ends. We’re watching footage of and listening to the words and what amounts to the descent of this man’s life into suicide. Kalief Browder is a victim of the intersection of everything that is wrong with the juvenile justice system, not only in New York City, but in America.
TIME is the horror story you should be watching.
For those who don’t know, TIME is a six-part documentary executive produced in party by Jay-Z about the story of Kalief Browder, a young man who spent three years on Riker’s Island (New York City’s jail) awaiting a hearing and trial largely because his family couldn’t come up with the bond in time to spring him, and the horrors he faced inside at the hands of prison guards, fellow inmates, and the psychological effects it had on him. Unfortunately, but not at all unpredictably, it resulted in him taking his own life at age 22. If you’re unaware of his story, you really should read up on it. Or better yet, watch this documentary.
I hate to say that watching the story of a dead man is compelling, but the truth is, it is. Listening to him talk, and to his friends and family talk, and seeing footage of the brutal attacks, it’s easy to forget that you’re watching a child. He was 16 when he was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack. Sixteen. All of the footage is of a juvenile. Yet here we are, watching the waning years of his life as he explains why he came out a different person than he went in.
You get to hear from prison guards who TELL you of the corruption and what they did to bring in contraband and how they let shit slide or used other inmates as enforcers. It’s three episodes in (plus a town hall) but you get to see an indepth analysis of what social scientists and justice reformers have been screaming: you watch every way that the system breaks you down and ruins you for life. You’re watching unchecked devastation and destruction exacted largely on people who look like many of our family members.
Why do I need to watch it? I already know the story. I don’t want to see how America killed Kalief. I like my horror stories to be fake, not real. I don’t want to see that shit.
I’ve seen many versions of that statement on social media. And I get it. If you’re aware of the story, it probably infuriated you and possibly still does. I remember when the story about Kalief first broke and the way so many of us couldn’t believe that this young man spent almost 14 months in solitary confinement. That’s ungodly. That’s unreasonable. It’s inhumane. He was a child. We were all pissed.
I remember reading that he died and I can honestly say that I wasn’t surprised. I was saddened because I’d watched the interviews with him and prayed that the faint and distant glimmer of hope I thought I saw from his ability to tell his story would lead to, I don’t know, something not death. But alas, it’s hard to escape your mind. Even when I watch him talk, he always seems like he’s watching his back, fighting back tears, pain, sorrow, and despair. He’s literally trying to make it one day at a time.
It’s hard to watch, but it’s important to watch. It’s important to see just how corrupt the system is. Knowing it’s corrupt is one thing, knowing HOW it’s corrupt is a different beast altogether. You don’t even fully understand what there is to fight for if all you’re fighting for is police reform and juvenile justice reform. It’s important to know exactly what is going wrong and why and how and who is ultimately culpable. It’s painful to see it. It’s devastating and it might bring you to tears. Especially watching him speak about the injustices. Not hearing him, but watching him talk about it.
It’s also important to watch because it’s almost impossible to view his story and not want to do…something. You may not know exactly what to do; Lord knows I don’t. But the more I watch and the more incensed I get the more I’m concerned and worried about everybody else who comes face to face with a system that seems intent on destroying our community and those people of color who come into contact with it. Kalief’s story could have been anybody’s story in the same way that Trayvon Martin could have been anybody.
We need to be aware of all of our stories in order to know exactly what it is we’re fighting for. I pray that Kalief is resting peacefully. His story, a true American horror story, should hopefully help those that don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on to people of color realize just how fucked up a system that they rarely have to deal with is.
That is the real audacity of hope.