By Jessica Goodman
Updated June 12, 2015 at 02:48 PM EDT
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

News about Kalief Browder’s death shook America on Monday, when it was revealed that the young man who had spent three years on Rikers Island without being convicted of a crime had died by suicide. Almost immediately, civil rights and mental health activists spoke out about his death, calling it “an American tragedy.” Now, in a new essay published on Vulture, John Legend says that “New York failed Kalief Browder.”

“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,” Legend wrote. “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. He should not have spent one day being abused by guards or the others incarcerated there.”

Back in 2014, the New Yorker published a lengthy profile on Browder, and he became a symbol of corruption in the criminal justice system. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told the Observer that Browder’s case was an “eye-opener” and his death “very, very painful.” He told the paper, “Once his story became public, it caused a lot of people to act and a lot of the changes we’re making at Rikers Island right now are the result of the example of Kalief Browder.”

Legend finished with one, straight-forward message: “Kalief died because our system is broken.”

Head over to Vulture to read Legend’s full essay.