Just last month, young Kalief Browder committed suicide. Browder was arrested at age16 for the alleged theft of a backpack. Without being formally charged or tried, Browder spent 3 years at New York City’s notorious Rikers Island complex – two of them in solitary confinement.
Lacking competent legal representation and isolated in part because he was not a member of any street organization, Browder was relentlessly beaten and abused by both staff and inmates during his incarceration. He made several prior suicide attempts during and after his time at Rikers.
On the outside, in the hopeful estimation of his family and friends, Browder’s condition seemed to be improving. At the time of his death, he was attending city college classes, his grades were going up, and his panic attacks and other PTSD symptoms seemed to be retreating – until his mother found him hanging from an open window one morning.
Less than a week later, in another world just six miles downstream from Rikers, Hillary Clinton kicked off her campaign with a Roosevelt Island campaign rally, eagerly covered by Melissa Harris-Perry and MSNBC. Roosevelt Island is a moated community, inhabited in large part by United Nations employees and such, many quite well-to-do.
Hillary Rodham Clinton is no dummy, and she employs some of the cleverest marketers around to craft every photo opportunity, appearance and most of the words that come from her mouth. Not much escapes their notice, except of course those matters they deem just not worth noticing.
Her people knew
People on Hillary’s team knew who Kalief Browder was. They knew Rikers was just six miles upstream, and they knew it wouldn’t embarrass New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio because deBlasio had already acknowledged the tragedy. They knew the crowd was Hillary’s no matter what she did or did not say.
For Team Hillary, the life and death of Kalief Browder – and hundreds or thousands like him – just didn’t make the cut. Other points, other matters were too pressing, too urgent.
Since becoming a presidential candidate again in the last few weeks, Hillary has learned to make her lips say the words “mass incarceration.” She’s said it more often in the last couple months than Bernie Sanders has in twenty years.
A Black issue?
But it seems to be one of those things she’ll only come out with in front of Black and other receptive audiences, as though Black mass incarceration and the prison state were the exclusive creations or problems of Black and Brown Americans, instead of something she and her husband expanded dramatically during their last terms in the White House.
The entire Black political class is maneuvering to deliver the Black vote to Hillary (sometimes through Bernie Sanders in the primary season). It’s instructive to note that when their candidate has a free hand and a friendly White audience before which to speak, the prison state and mass incarceration, which virtually define the Black experience of government, are simply not worth mentioning.
Bruce Dixon is managing editor of BlackAgendaReport.com. Contact him at email@example.com.