The Death of Kalief Browder Exposes the Lethality of the Court System

by Raj Jayadev (This piece originally ran in the Huffington Post)


Kalief Browder

To call the death of 22-year-old Kalief Browder a suicide is not the full truth. Kalief Browder may have hung himself, but he was killed by the brokenness of our court system.

The story of his short life, told by Jennifer Gonnerman in The New Yorker last year, chronicles the horrors of a 16-year-old who was charged for a stealing a backpack, sent to the isolation and brutality of Rikers Island prison for three years, only for the charge to eventually be dropped by the prosecutor. Follow up articles report that Kalief was so profoundly haunted from his mental and physical abuse inside that upon his release, he was hospitalized and told his mother, “I can’t take it anymore.” Ultimately, he hung himself with an air-conditioner cord at his home this June.

The ubiquity of his name online is a different sort of morbid hashtag. It seems social media adds a new name every week of an African-American killed by police, with a hashtag prefix added on. The names we are familiar with — #MichaelBrown, #TamirRice, #FreddieGray — point to obvious culprits and have fueled a new national movement for police accountability and reform. But the #KaliefBrowder name points to a less talked about, yet as his case shows, equally lethal injustice. Continue reading

Appreciating Our Dads On Father’s Day

We couldn’t fit everyone into one picture, but we’d like to take a moment to honor all the amazing ACJP fathers whose love we get to witness every week.  Time and time again, we’ve heard dads say “I’m fighting for my family.” And that powerful love carves paths that break through the justice system’s walls.  We honor you today on Father’s Day.fathersday


Check out the latest piece by Jonathan Rapping of Gideon’s Promise

rapproAs the nation finally awakens to the reality of our broken criminal justice system, a long overdue conversation about how to reform it has emerged. But the solutions being proposed are destined to fall short, as they focus exclusively on changing policies while the challenge demands a transformation of hearts and minds. Until we recognize the need to tackle the problem of culture, and focus on how we can build a movement to change it, equal justice will remain an illusion.

The assumptions driving our current criminal justice system have been forged by a narrative honed over four decades that has cast poor communities of color as dangerous and persuaded us to adopt policies that made it easier to monitor, control, and punish these other-ized populations. Continue reading

David Bornstein’s New York Times Column on Participatory Defense

We were very grateful for David Bornstein’s thoughtful and comprehensive article on the growth and potential of participatory defense. His New York Times column is called “Fixes, which looks at solutions to social problems and why they work.” Check it out!

29fixesWeb-blog480Guiding Families to a Fair Day in Court

…Today, Jayadev says, when a loved one is arrested, the most that many families feel they can do is hope for a good lawyer. Participatory defense expands their sense of agency. And if the goal is to build the political will to end mass incarceration, he says, “This seems like the most natural mass movement building approach — because it is about people seeing their own power in their own communities, as intimate as the fate of their own families.” CLICK HERE TO READ MORE>>>

ICYMI: New York Times Feature on Our Social Biography Videos

In case you missed it, De-Bug/ACJP was featured in a front page story in the New York Times for our social biography video concept. Check it out:

A Flattering Biographical Video as the Last Exhibit for the Defense


GILROY, Calif. — About 3,000 miles from New York, members of a camera crew gathered around Anthony Quijada, trying to do for their not-famous, not-rich client what some high-priced lawyers are doing for theirs in New York courts: Make a video that can keep him out of prison.

Lawyers are beginning to submit biographical videos when their clients are sentenced, and proponents say they could transform the process. Defendants and their lawyers already are able to address the court before a sentence is imposed, but the videos are adding a new dimension to the punishment phase of a prosecution.

Judges “never knew the totality of the defendant” before seeing these videos, said Raj Jayadev, one of the people making the video of Mr. Quijada, who lives in this Northern California city of about 52,000 people. “All they knew was the case file.” CLICK HERE TO GO TO FULL NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE>>>

Video of the Moment Arthur Erased His Name

This is Arthur erasing his name from our weekly ACJP meeting. His dad Kenny would add his name up on that whiteboard for years. Last Sunday, Arthur came home from prison after eight years, having beaten a life sentence due to Prop.36, and erased his name. It is the one ceremony we have at our meetings — erasing the name means a family has won the freedom of their loved one.

We had only known Arthur through his letters from prison, and his stories from his father Kenny —  that he was a great son and looked out for his brothers.  Every Sunday Kenny would come to De-Bug to help think through Arthur’s case.  In 2006, Arthur agreed to a deal after he was told that if he pled guilty, his brother — one of the codefendants in the case — would be released.  He thought he would be serving somewhere around 8 years.  When the Judge handed down a life sentence during his court hearing, everyone in the courtroom was stunned.  That was the first time Arthur or his family had even heard of ‘life’ being on the table.  So when Kenny first came to De-Bug in 2008, they were still reeling from the pain of losing their son to prison, even though it had already been 2 years. But with the support of his community, Kenny — on the outside — and Arthur on the inside — worked to undo his case.  On Sundays, Kenny and the De-Bug team would lay out 4- inch binders of paperwork to help construct possible ways of appeal.  We met with his appellate attorneys, wrote back and forth to Arthur, even met with decision-makers to find openings.  Meanwhile, Kenny and Arthur held strong — working through depression and a host of health issues that Arthur faced inside the prison.  Then when Prop 36 passed in November 2012, a glimmer of hope came.  Arthur was contacted by the Santa Clara County Public Defender’s office who represented him at his resentencing.  Kenny collected letters of support that demonstrated Arthur’s network that would give him a solid reentry plan, and last year, a judge agreed to release Arthur back to his community.  Check out this Time Saved Party video, where Kenny talks about the day he found out his son had an “out date.” On May 5th, he came home.  On May 31, 2015 — 7 years after Kenny first walked into the doors of De-Bug — Arthur walked in with him.  Submission Post by Charisse Domingo