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On Black Mama's Bail Out Day, "Goal is to Free Our People from These Cages" Before Mother's Day

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On Thursday, racial justice groups began bailing women out of jail as part of a nationwide "Black Mama’s Bail Out Day." The effort, taking place in nearly 20 cities, raises money to free as many black women from jail as possible in time for a Mother’s Day celebration with their families. Organizers for Black Mama’s Bail Out Day are calling for an end to the cash bail system, which keeps hundreds of thousands of people who have not been convicted of any crime imprisoned in jails every day nationwide while they await trial. For more, we speak with Mary Hooks, co-director of Southerners On New Ground, or SONG, an Atlanta-based regional LGBTQ nonprofit and one of the organizers of Black Mama’s Bail Out Day.

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AMY GOODMAN: This Sunday, Mother’s Day, will be a lot happier for scores of women across the country. On Thursday, racial justice groups began bailing out women out of jail as part of a nationwide Black Mama’s Bail Out Day. The effort, taking place in nearly 20 cities, raises money to bail out as many black women from jail as possible in time for a Mother’s Day celebration with their families. This is a clip from the campaign video announcing the project.

RUTH JEANNOEL: Our corrupt criminal justice system forces innocent people, who pose no threat, to purchase their freedom. The costs are devastating. Women oftentimes lose their homes, jobs or even children, just to be found innocent. Some women, like Sandra Bland, have even lost their lives. Thousands of families go through this every day. This year, we’re taking a stand.

AMY GOODMAN: Organizers for Black Mama’s Bail Out Day are calling for an end to the cash bail system, which keeps millions of people who have not been convicted of any crime imprisoned in jails every day nationwide while they await trial.

Well, for more, we’re joined by Mary Hooks, co-director of Southerners On New Ground, or SONG, an Atlanta-based regional LGBTQ nonprofit, one of the organizers of Black Mama’s Bail Out Day.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Mary. So, lay it out. What are you doing leading up to Sunday?

MARY HOOKS: Hello, friend. We have set out with a vision and an intention to bail out as many black mamas as possible. We know that about 80 percent of black women that are sitting in cages right now are single parents and caretakers. We know that the—one out of three black trans women who have spent time in the cage have experienced sexual violence in the cage. One out of nine black children have parents who are incarcerated. And so, our goal is to be able to free our people from these cages, using the traditions from our ancestors that bought each other’s collective freedom, to get our folks back home and to highlight the crisis around the cash bail system, put pressure on all of these institutions who are making money off of our people’s suffering, but, most importantly, restore the life that this cash bail system have taken from our people.

AMY GOODMAN: You spent much of yesterday at a jail in Atlanta with your team bailing out women. Can you describe the scene and how they responded?

MARY HOOKS: My word, I get chills thinking about it. We were—got there about 10:00 a.m. We left about 1:00 a.m. A crew of folks set up outside so we can make sure we had some immediate needs—gift bags, loose cigarettes, water, MARTA cards, love, music, packets of information to access direct services. We had therapists and nurses on site. And we also were able to—our first round of folks was about seven people. And we had built such a rapport with the folks in the jail that when the women were—when the women were coming out, we were in tears, they were in tears. And it was just amazing. And I think that’s part of what we long to do inside of our work, is to organize from a place of desire and longing and love. And it was—it was in the air.

AMY GOODMAN: Mary, can you explain what the cash bail system is and how it is so many women, and men—I’ll ask if you’re doing the same thing on Father’s Day—are held without having been convicted of a crime, but in jail?

MARY HOOKS: Yes. Well, we have a system that says, you know, regardless if—you know, if you don’t have money and you’re held pretrial, meaning you haven’t been convicted, you haven’t been tried, you haven’t told your story, if for some reason you don’t have enough money, you have to stay in the cage, and someone else who has money can pay money to get out. You have to stay in the cage and await your trial. Now, obviously, in certain states, there’s a limitation on what a speedy trial looks like. But you look at cases like Kalief Browder—right?—who sat in a cage 360 of those days in solitary confinement for over two years awaiting trial. And so we have folks who are sitting in cages, and, literally, after three days, after two days—one day is enough—who are losing their housing, their jobs, their children, because they cannot afford to pay the money in order to get out, be able to mitigate their cases and be able to show back up to court. And so, we’re seeing up to 700,000 people daily languish in cages because they cannot afford bail. It is modern-day bondage. It is hostage. Our people are being held at ransom.

AMY GOODMAN: A new report by Color of Change and ACLU finds, quote, "With little accountability, the for-profit bail industry has thus created a way to profit from usurping the role and function of the courts, trapped families in debt while escaping scrutiny for consumer practices, made armed arrests and surveilled people without meaningful oversight by police, and evaded insurance regulators." Sandra Bland, of course, comes to mind, who was pulled over, the police officer said, for failing to signal a lane change, and ends up dead in her jail cell, because she couldn’t raise the bond money to get out, three days later. We’re wrapping up with this comment, Mary Hooks. Mary, with your comment on women like Sandra and who you’re trying to save.

MARY HOOKS: You know, for women like Sandra—for women like Sandra, for women like myself, for the women like my family members and my comrades and folks who we are bailing out, for people who don’t get killed by police in that interaction, the slow death happens in the cage. And so, our hope is that this action inspires other folks to take action, to know that we can take down this cash bail system, to know we can get our people out of cages right now. There’s a long-term head fight of us in terms of ending the cash bail system.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Mary, we’re going to continue this discussion in the coming days. I want to thank you so much for being with us.

MARY HOOKS: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Mary Hooks, co-director of Southerners On New Ground and an organizer of National Black Mama’s Bail Out Day.

That does it for the show. I’ll be speaking in New York tonight at The New School at Tishman Auditorium at 7:00 p.m., free to the public here in New York. On Saturday, I’ll be in Olympia, Washington and then at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon. Sunday, we’ll be in Eureka and Berkeley at the First Presbyterian Church.

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