John Legend’s Kalief Browder Essay On Why The System Is Definitely Broken

Kalief Browder was a young man John Legend wanted to meet. After watching an interview featuring the young man who had been arrested and sent to Riker’s Island for three years without a conviction, Legend was impressed by Browder’s “inner strength.” But a meeting between Kalief Browder and John Legend would never take place. Kalief Browder committed suicide following his release from Riker’s Island. As recently reported by Time, John Legend did what he does best – lift his voice, this time in an essay for Vulture effectively charging the New York criminal justice system for failing Kalief Browder.

Legend, who recently lent his musical talents to Broadway’s Finding Neverland, took time out from his musical career to outline what went wrong.

“The list of things that went wrong in his case begins with his first encounter with the NYPD, whose practice of targeting black teens is well documented. The idea that being accused of stealing a backpack would lead to his arrest and detention would be absurd if it weren’t actually tragic. He should not have been tried as an adult, or had prosecutors, defenders, and judges so overwhelmed with cases that he waited three years for trial, violating his constitutional right to swift justice. He should not have been held in an adult jail where he would spend 700 to 800 days of those three years in solitary confinement.”

John Legend is no stranger to advocacy for criminal justice reform. During his Oscar acceptance speech for the song “Glory,” which he co-wrote with rapper Common, Legend confirmed his participation in the struggle for justice.

“We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.”

Legend advocated for Proposition 47, a sentencing initiative that changes certain non-violent felonies to misdemeanors, and launched his own criminal justice reform initiative, FREE AMERICA, earlier this year. Legend actively advocates for criminal justice reform with the goal of ending mass incarceration. Legend has already brought his advocacy to criminal justice events and prisons in California, Texas and the District of Columbia.

John Legend has also been busy serving as executive producer for the Los Angeles Film Festival’s freshly screened urban gardening documentary “Can You Dig This” (trailer below) and HBO’s “Southern Rites,” about the killing of a young African American man in Georgia, a project he talked about on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

Legend told Stewart, “…a lot of racism is structural, and in the criminal justice system it often plays out in sentencing and who gets charged for what, in how juries are picked. All these things that end up discounting the value of black lives versus other lives.”

John Legend has built a successful music career using his talents, but now Legend is using his passion to leave a legacy of advocacy and justice reform.

[Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images]