Report of NYS 2020 Budget disgrace.

After years of using my brother’s name in an attempt to address the systemic injustices that led to his tragic death, New York State passed a budget that reneges on every promise they made to ensure pretrial justice.

My brother Kalief was the victim of an unjust, unequal and racist criminal legal system. He sat behind bars on Rikers Island for three years as an innocent teenager, waiting for his day in court. The charges were eventually dropped, but the unimaginable psychological and physical abuse he suffered drove him to take his own life after he was released.

The new bail reform law enacted in January was a critical and long overdue measure to prevent other families from suffering the tragedy we have endured.

The law was working. Thousands of people in communities across the state were returning home to their families, jobs and livelihoods while waiting for their day in court, rather than languishing in jail because they were too poor to buy their freedom.

Yet in just three months, politicians in Albany caved and abandoned this progress. Not only did Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, and Speaker Heastie kowtow to the fear-mongering tactics of law enforcement, but the changes passed in the budget reflected a complete dismissal of the resounding calls of communities who have long been persecuted and abused by our state’s criminal legal system.

The backroom deal struck by legislative leaders would expand the bail-eligible charge categories to subject more innocent people to pretrial detention. Make no mistake, this is a significant and massive rollback that will greatly increase our reliance on jails.

Although a lot of the reform efforts revolved around my brother’s case, he was just one of many abused by the system., It is worth noting that he would have not been better off under this rollback . One of the new measures would ensure that a person accused of a crime under the same circumstances as my brother would face bail. The law now imposes bail on everyone accused of a felony while on probation. This means Kalief could have still been subject to pretrial detention because he was on probation at the time of his wrongful arrest.

This is not about political gains and losses. This is about thousands of lives that will now be endangered. This is about further disruption to the same communities that are still trying to overcome years of harm. It’s about continuing to punish Black and brown communities. And as we navigate the uncertain times of this global pandemic, it’s about exacerbating a public health crisis and considering New Yorkers in jails as disposable.

To exploit Kalief’s story, coming from the grave where he and our mother rest—yet pass this legislation—is an insult and a mockery of justice.. We are once again caught in a vicious cycle where families like ours that are not financially capable of making bail will continue to suffer. More innocent people will be subjected to the same harsh treatment my brother experienced, with untold consequences.

The fact that decades of advocacy from families like mine who have experienced the devastating and deadly outcomes of this broken system was tossed aside after a few weeks of backlash is telling. It shows that real courage in Albany can be hard to find.

This rollback was not about facts or rational debate—it was about politics. Our legislative leaders made clear that they ultimately believed saving a few electoral seats was more important than saving thousands of lives.

I will no doubt continue to fight for families like mine through continued advocacy and the Kalief Browder Foundation, which supports alternatives to incarceration that will actually get people the help they need. But the record should reflect the vanity by which my brother’s name was used to peddle reform that fails to bring justice to our tragedy.

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