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Black Mama’s Bail Out Is Freeing Black Women from Jail for Mother’s Day & Taking Aim at Cash Bail

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Image Credit: Southerners On New Ground

It’s Mother’s Day this weekend, and racial justice groups around the country are bailing black women out of jail so they can spend the holiday with their families. For the second year in a row, “Black Mama’s Bail Out Day” is raising money to bail out as many black women from jail as possible. The effort is taking place in dozens of cities to call attention to the injustice of cash bail. We speak to Mary Hooks, co-director of Southerners on New Ground and an organizer of National Black Mama’s Bail Out Day.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Sunday is Mother’s Day. Racial justice groups around the country are bailing black women out of jail so they can spend the holiday with their families. For the second year in a row, Black Mama’s Bail Out Day is raising money to bail out as many black women from jail as possible. The effort is taking place in dozens of cities to call attention to the injustice of cash bail.

This is Serena Sebring, an organizer with Southerners on New Ground, or SONG, which spearheaded the effort. This is video from SONG’s celebration last year in Durham, North Carolina.

SERENA SEBRING: SONG has been spearheading this effort, because Mary Hooks had a dream. She thought, “What if we came together with our local and national partners and collected our resources to bail as many black mamas out of jail the week before Mother’s Day?” It’s part of a larger critique of money bail as a system, which we know leaves people in cages, when we believe that nobody should live in cages.

AMY GOODMAN: Since the effort launched last year, there’s been a growing national movement to eliminate cash bail from the criminal justice system. Just this week, Google and Facebook announced they’ll no longer take money from America’s for-profit bail bond agencies. Still, the cash bail system keeps millions of people who have not been convicted of any crime imprisoned in jails every day nationwide while they await trial.

For more, we go to Mary Hooks, co-director of Southerners on New Ground, with the Movement for Black Lives. She is an organizer of National Black Mama’s Bail Out Day.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Mary, talk about the significance of this day, and exactly what you’re doing around the country.

MARY HOOKS: Yeah, this is a powerful day. To be able to celebrate mothers is critical. And to be able to do it in a way that actually shows what’s happening to our people in terms of the cash bail system, it’s so critical and necessary for our communities. We are raising money. We are bailing people out. We are throwing homecomings to welcome our people home. We are unifying people with their families and also helping to provide stabilization, because we know that once people sit in a cage for so long, that there’s so much that has been lost. And so it’s our responsibility to help put the pieces back together.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain how the system works. And talk about the women you’ve been bailing out. Why are they in jail?

MARY HOOKS: Yeah, so, essentially, when someone is arrested, and if you are not killed by the police, the other lynching begins in the courtroom. And when someone goes before a judge, oftentimes they’re levied a bail, that never considers their income, never considers if they are eligible to pay or not. And we believe that wealth-based detention is not a legitimate means of even qualifying as to whether or not someone’s going to come back to court or not. And so, we oftentimes see primarily poor and black people who languish in cages because they can’t afford their bail.

And so many of the women that we’ve bailed out, we’re seeing ridiculous stories. There was someone that we met who was picked up on an old charge from 10 years ago, someone who had been sitting since March, with two children at home, and had lost their job, had lost their housing, for ridiculous violations—real talk, that doesn’t—that shouldn’t even be litigated by the state. And so, yeah, that is what we’re trying to highlight.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to go to the story of Ebony Thomas, one of the women who was bailed out last year through your program. She’s a mother of three from Atlanta whose story was highlighted on the Black Mama’s Bail Out Facebook page.

EBONY THOMAS: I was actually going to the store to get some snacks for my son. My tag light was out, and I got pulled over. And unbeknownst to me, my license was suspended for a seat belt ticket from 2015, and that also gave me a failure to appear because, I guess, when they sent me the court papers, they had no way to get in touch with me, so I didn’t know I had to appear for court. So, I get locked up for driving under suspension and failure to appear. My 17-year-old, he didn’t even know where I was. So I cried, I know, the first three days I was there. Yeah, it was all bad.

I went to the county, Fulton County. Then I stayed there, freezing cold, for about 36 hours, before I was even booked in. They give you, I think, maybe 72 hours to see if you can make bail. I could not. Then they moved me to Rice Street, and then I ended up in Union City. And that was all bad. Yeah, it was bad. It was not only cold, it was dirty. And it was like being in a dungeon with your hands tied behind your back.

First of all, I didn’t have the money. Second of all, the failure to appear, which, in the judge’s eyes, I guess, was like, “We already had one failure to appear. I’m not going to give you a signature bond so that you may not show up again. So you have to pay a bond or get a bailsman or however, but you’re going to have to pay to get out, so we’ll know that you’ll come this time.” And there was no way that I could pay. This seemed like it was just like a conspiracy, all of a money thing. You know, “We’re going to keep her stuck here, because we’re going to get paid regardless. So we’re going to keep her as long as we can. It’s up to her to get out.”

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Ebony Thomas, one of the women you all bailed out last year through your program. Right now you have, for example, Google and the Koch brothers announcing a partnership to address bail reform. What do you understand about this? And what do you want to see change, even as you engage in change at SONG, Southerners on New Ground, and bail out women for Mother’s Day?

MARY HOOKS: Well, you know, I think it’s commendable to see Google and the Koch brothers take a stand on this issue. And at the same time, I think it calls for deeper divestment from mass incarceration, and that they, both those companies, and others have to look at their practices, look at the ways in which they’re making money off of our people, and actually really, really cut ties with mass incarceration and the prison-industrial complex, just to be honest.

I think what we are—what we are seeing in terms of the women that we’re bailing out, I think what we know to be true is that they are experts at their own lives. We are experts at our own lives. And so, when we’re looking for solutions to dismantle the system of money bail, we have to go back to those very women who sat in those cages, to say, “How do we actually build something new? And how do we actually dismantle this system in a way that doesn’t come back to us 10 years later because we’re doing it wrong or we’re taking half-measures?”

And so, oftentimes a lot of our work is making sure that we build the alternatives that we need. When we provide stabilization and support, we’re saying that we don’t need cages, we need care. And we need community-based solutions in order to do that. And so, we’re not going to wait on the state or big business to find an interest in this hot topic; we’re going to take matters into our hands, because we know that our communities are suffering.

AMY GOODMAN: Mary, how many people do you think are being bailed out? How many mothers are being bailed out for Sunday?

MARY HOOKS: You know, it’s maybe over 20 cities right now that are engaging in bailouts.


MARY HOOKS: And so, over a hundred, I know for sure. But, for us, you know—and that gets me excited. But even if we just bailed out one, that is enough. Even if we just bailed out one, we know that one mother, one caretaker, is going to impact and have so much impact in communities, where, you know, hundreds are going to be impacted by the very fact that she’s out of the cage. And so, we’ll take one, but a hundred or more would be good.

AMY GOODMAN: Mary Hooks, thanks so much for being with us, co-director of SONG, Southerners on New Ground, with the Movement for Black Lives, an organizer with the National Black Mama’s Bail Out Day.

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