Prison Abolitionist Mariame Kaba on Cyntoia Brown, the First Step Act and NYC Building 4 New Jails

Web ExclusiveJanuary 11, 2019
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In a web exclusive conversation, we speak with prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba about Cyntoia Brown being granted full clemency by Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam after serving 15 years in prison, the failures of the criminal justice reform bill known as the First Step Act, and the fight against NYC jail expansion as Mayor Bill de Blasio proposes building four new jails. Kaba is an organizer and educator who has worked on anti-domestic violence programs, anti-incarceration and racial justice programs since the late 1980s. Kaba is the co-founder of Survived and Punished, an organization that supports survivors of violence who have been criminalized for defending themselves. She’s also a board member of Critical Resistance.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Part 2 of our discussion about the clemency granted to Cyntoia Brown.

Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam granted full clemency to Cyntoia Brown Monday, after she had served 15 years in prison. The decision follows months of intense pressure and outrage over her case.

Brown was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of first-degree murder for shooting her rapist as a teenager. She was sexually trafficked, repeatedly abused and drugged. The shooting happened when Brown was just 16 years old, but she was tried as an adult. Brown is now 30 years old. She’s set to be released in August.

We continue our conversation with Mariame Kaba, organizer and educator who has worked on anti-domestic violence programs, as well as anti-incarceration and racial justice programs, since the late '80s. She's the co-founder of Survived and Punished, a group that supports survivors of violence that have been criminalized for defending themselves. She’s a board member of Critical Resistance.

Thank you so much for staying for Part 2 of this discussion. We talked all about what happened to Cyntoia Brown. But now, with this clemency—

MARIAME KABA: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —granted by the Republican Tennessee governor, that comes out of, not even months, years of organizing—

MARIAME KABA: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: What does full clemency mean?

MARIAME KABA: Well, full clemency means, in this case, that he offered to commute her sentence to time served. So, that means that while she had a life sentence and the court upheld, in December, that she would have to spend 51 years in prison, the governor basically said the 15 years that you spent in prison is enough, and released her to supervised parole. And so, that’s what’s going to happen.

What he didn’t do was offer her a pardon, which would have expunged her record. And that’s important, because expunging her record will allow her to have more ability to be able to make a life for herself. As you know, having a conviction on your record really has an impact negatively on your ability to be able to find a job, for example, after you are released. It has a negative impact on you being able to actually vote. So she’s now disenfranchised. She won’t be able to vote in Tennessee or anywhere in the country again, based on her felony conviction.

I also want to point out something about the collateral consequences of the psychological stuff that she’s going to have to deal with. Being incarcerated in a prison—prisons are hellholes. She is now going to have to be out into the world. But she spent her formative years locked up behind bars, from the time that she was 16 years old to now, being 31, when she gets out. That’s huge. I mean, I want people to think about what you were doing at 16, and if you were like literally taken outside of the world during that time and then plopped back into the world now today, what your adjustment would be like. I think we have to be mindful of that and think about that, not just for Cyntoia, but for so many people who have served long sentences in prison.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve spoken about her not being able to vote—

MARIAME KABA: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: —for the rest of her life.

MARIAME KABA: That’s right. She’s disenfranchised. Right?

AMY GOODMAN: Interesting, if she lived in Florida, well, that would still be the case. But now it looks like, unless the governor, DeSantis, succeeds in stopping this—

MARIAME KABA: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —it is possible that well over a million Floridians will be able to vote—

MARIAME KABA: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: —who served time, perhaps in jail—

MARIAME KABA: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —or have felonies—

MARIAME KABA: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: —that don’t include murder or sexual assault.

MARIAME KABA: I think, you know, one of the people who was one of the leaders of that effort, Desmond [Meade], said something that I thought was really profound, at an event that I was at last year, where he said, “Imagine if all of the people who have been disenfranchised because they were incarcerated were re-enfranchised. We’d be talking about a whole different electorate.” We’d be talking basically about a third party—you know?—of people who would shift and shake up everything that we know currently in the two-party system. I think that is so profound, and so—and why so many people want to push back against it.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s so interesting. As we know, the famous George Bush case, he won by like 500 votes.

MARIAME KABA: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: And then you have Donald Trump by 110,000 votes.

MARIAME KABA: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about well over a million people.

MARIAME KABA: Exactly, 1.4, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And they might not have even served time in prison.

MARIAME KABA: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: If they have a felony on their record—

MARIAME KABA: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: —they can now go register to vote.

MARIAME KABA: Yeah, that’s huge.

AMY GOODMAN: So, in the first part of this discussion, I asked you how many other Cyntoia Browns are there in prison.

MARIAME KABA: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve spent your life organizing for women who have been imprisoned. You’re a survivor yourself.

MARIAME KABA: I am.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the women you have fought for their freedom.

MARIAME KABA: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And as you said, you’re not surprised, because you believe organizing leads to success

MARIAME KABA: That’s right. I believe we can—I think the only way we can’t win is if we don’t organize. So, I think if you’re going to—you know, it’s worth fighting, it’s worth being in the struggle.

I have been involved, on and off, for most of my adult life in campaigns to help support criminalized survivors, in multiple kinds of ways. And people might know a few of the names of people that I’ve been involved in the campaigns for freedom for. One is a woman named Marissa Alexander, who people may know. And I think Marissa has been on this show, which makes me so happy to be able to see her out free now, in a way that—you know, she was a domestic violence survivor in Florida who shot a warning shot to defend herself against her abusive husband, who she had—

AMY GOODMAN: Into the garage roof.

MARIAME KABA: That’s right, into like—just in, actually, her—

AMY GOODMAN: Ceiling.

MARIAME KABA: —ceiling of her house, that she was just in to get some materials from, and he came and confronted her. Right? She just had a baby nine days earlier. So, you know, and then they basically arrested her. And then she was tried, 12-minute jury deliberation, and she ended up with a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence, for firing a warning shot to defend herself. And so—

AMY GOODMAN: And this all came out right around the time—

MARIAME KABA: When George Zimmerman’s case was in the news, when George Zimmerman was threatening to use Stand Your Ground. And people were like, “Wait a minute. There’s this black woman in, you know, Duval County in Florida, Marissa Alexander, who in 2010 was actually incarcerated—was convicted, a 20-year mandatory minimum.”

And the judge in that case said to her that she couldn’t invoke Stand Your Ground because she didn’t appear afraid. Right? This goes back to what we were talking about before, which is: Can black women ever be victims? Are we always going to have to be the aggressors? Are we never possible to actually be harmed, never able to be fearful for our lives? Right? Like, we actually have, constitutionally, an inability for people to see us as people who actually are vulnerable to violence, which we are, at a disproportionate rate within our communities and by the state.

And so, I really thought about that a lot when we were on Marissa’s case and were doing a lot of organizing. I co-founded the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander, which is now called Love & Protect, which still exists in Illinois, and they’re still running campaigns to free more survivors and do clemency campaigns, etc. So, that was just one example of one of the people that I was involved in helping to support.

Bresha Meadows was another young woman recently that Survived and Punished helped to make sure she didn’t end up spending life, when she killed her abusive father when she was only 14 years old. And this is a case that was going on in Ohio. Bresha is now home with her family. Right? And they were threatening to put her in prison for the rest of her life, as a 14-year-old, who had a credible situation with her father having abused her mother for her entire life, and also some allegations of sexual abuse of Bresha herself.

So, these are the cases that people have heard of because of organizing. But there are so many other people who are currently locked up whose stories are not being told. Here in New York, we have just launched a campaign called Free Them New York. People can go to FreeThemNY.com and see the stories of a bunch of survivors that are currently incarcerated in New York state prisons, that we’re pushing Governor Cuomo to commute their sentences. So, it’s an ongoing thing.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us about the case of Chrystul Kizer?

MARIAME KABA: Chrystul Kizer, my understanding is that her case—she’s in Milwaukee. She killed somebody who had coerced her into child pornography. She killed him when she was 17 years old. And there’s a campaign currently ongoing to try to get the prosecutors to drop the charges against her.

Here in New York, by the way, we have a case of a woman named Nikki Addimando, a mother of two, who, after 10 years of brutal abuse by her partner, ended up shooting her partner in self-defense. She’s in Poughkeepsie, New York. And the horrible prosecutor over there is—got charges against her on first-degree murder, and she is potentially facing life in prison. They say that her trial will begin at the end of this month. It’s probably not going to begin at—you know, they keep saying that, and then they’ll keep pushing it back, and God knows when they’ll actually put her on trial. But we are pushing right now, through Survived and Punished New York, to get her case to be dismissed. She has documented proof of the abuse she suffered, including photographs, including all sorts of testimony from people in the community. And her name is Nikki Addimando, and her hashtag is #FreeNikki. So, there’s just constant examples of what is going on around this and around the country.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the people you worked on with Survived and Punished was an immigrant woman.

MARIAME KABA: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about her.

MARIAME KABA: I didn’t actually work on this. The campaign was called Stand with Nan-Hui. Stand with Nan-Hui’s campaign was—is part of Survived and Punished. But it was a California group of folks that came together to fight for her. She was—she still is—an immigrant, who was married to an American, who had a child. She was a victim of domestic violence, severe. She took her child overseas to get away from her abuser. When she returned to the country, they arrested her, took her child away and put her in immigrant detention. And this group, this legal defense campaign called Stand with Nan-Hui, that then became part of Survived and—co-founding Survived and Punished, was able to fight for her freedom successfully. And she’s out of immigrant detention, and she continues to be able to see her daughter, etc., etc.

So it just points to the importance of legal defense campaigns. It points to the importance of participatory defense campaigns. And I think people should be—a reminder to folks that we have to keep fighting for people when they are criminalized, that, you know, what happens is that if you don’t have support, you end up going behind, you know, closed doors, basically, of the court system, and they railroad you, on a regular basis, because they’re trying to get everybody to plead out, right?

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the media’s role, Mariame Kaba, when it comes to, for example, Cyntoia Brown? How did the media cover her case?

MARIAME KABA: Well, I think the media covered her case according to how the state presented it, which was of a cold-blooded murderer who ended up killing this man, they said, in his sleep, which was not true at all, and that she was there to rob him on behalf of her pimp, Kutthroat, and that she was presented in an unsympathetic light.

I think the thing that shifted was that documentary that was put out in 2010 called Me Facing Life, because, you know, that’s a full six years after the incident, and those documentary filmmakers really humanized her, told her story, showed the context of the abuse that she had suffered prior to getting to the point where she had run away from home. Right? And so, that was a use of media that was actually useful. It was a humanizing effect of media rather than a sensationalist effect of media.

And that’s actually how I learned about Cyntoia’s case in 2010. I started blogging about it because somebody sent me a preview copy of that documentary, which I watched, which then made me get interested in the case. And I organized a screening in early 2011 in Chicago of Me Facing Life, along with Community Cinema in Chicago. And we brought a whole bunch of people together for a panel, which I moderated, to talk about Cyntoia’s case along with the cases of other criminalized survivors. So that was back in 2011, just, again, to show you the long arc of how long people have been talking about her case and trying to focus on getting her free.

AMY GOODMAN: Mariame Kaba, what is the Me Too movement missing when it comes to women of color?

MARIAME KABA: Well, I think that question is really interesting to me, because Me Too was started by a woman of color. Right? So—

AMY GOODMAN: Tarana Burke.

MARIAME KABA: You know, Tarana Burke.

AMY GOODMAN: Who’s been on this show a number of times.

MARIAME KABA: Tarana is amazing. I mean, Tarana is a longtime organizer and activist, who’s been doing this work basically without any attention for a couple of decades, right? She is at—she’s part of an organization called Girls for Gender Equity, run—you know, organized by an amazing powerhouse black woman named Joanne Smith. And they were doing this work, silently.

And it was when Alyssa Milano created the hashtag #MeToo that that blew up. And it blew up because it was a white woman who was famous and celebrity, that then people could feel like they could rally around. So, that’s a—

AMY GOODMAN: Even though she attributed it to Tarana.

MARIAME KABA: Oh, she—no, right away, she was able—because people came up and said—it wasn’t just that she attributed it to her. She didn’t know. She just kind of created this thing, but she didn’t know it was a pre-existing thing. Right? And so, what happened is that people got to her and said, “You know, this is a Me Too movement thing that’s been started since 2006. And so, you know, like, you’re on the bandwagon of something that already existed.” And to her credit, she stepped up right away and said, like, “Look at this work that came before I made this hashtag.”

So, it is a movement for women of color. It isn’t actually a movement that was started by white women. And so I find that to be really interesting in the way people are reframing it.

I think, to me, Me Too has to come to the carceral state, which is, there are people currently locked up in prisons who are being sexually assaulted on a daily basis, mostly by the staff of those particular prisons. You know the numbers of lawsuits that are being filed on a daily basis against prison staff who are sexually violating people behind bars. That’s also worthy of our attention. And I think I was here last time talking about—I don’t remember if it was Bresha’s case or something else, and I mentioned that criminalization itself is sexual violence. I want people to really understand that. The number of times, when you go—if anybody’s ever been to a prison or jail, when you go in to visit people, the patdowns that you get, to just go in, is a sexual violation. You’re the visitor. Imagine what happens to people on the inside—right?—behind those walls. So, I think Me Too has to think about that.

I also think I worry that we’re going to go the way of carceral feminisms, which is that we think we’re going to end violence by using more violence, and, really, prisons are violence. You know, I’ve got my little thing here called “Prison is not feminist,” because it isn’t actually a feminist—you know?—a feminist intervention. Prisons are violence. And so we have to think about other ways to try to address harm.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to the case of R. Kelly. CNN reports police have issued an arrest warrant for James Mason, the former manager for the pop star R. Kelly—Mason accused of threatening to kill the father of Joycelyn Savage, who alleges R. Kelly is holding his daughter against her will in an abusive cult. A police report obtained by CNN quotes Mason as threatening Savage in a text message that read, “I’m gonna do harm to you and your family, when I see you I’m gonna get you, I’m going to f—ing kill you.” R. Kelly has been accused of sexual assault, predatory behavior and pedophilia for two decades but has never been criminally convicted. Now, in Chicago, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx says her office is investigating numerous complaints against R. Kelly and has encouraged other victims to step forward.

Meanwhile, pop star Lady Gaga has apologized for collaborating with R. Kelly on the 2013 single “Do What U Want (With My Body).” Lady Gaga, herself a survivor of sexual assault, says she’ll remove the single from streaming services like Spotify.

These developments are all coming days after the airing of a shocking six-part Lifetime documentary series, Surviving R. Kelly. I just want to play the film’s trailer.

UNIDENTIFIED: There’s a difference between R. Kelly and Robert. R. Kelly is this fun, laughing, loving guy. But Robert is the devil.

REPORTER 1: R. Kelly is at the top of the charts, but he may be in for a fall. He was arrested today on 21 counts of child pornography.

REPORTER 2: Kelly is accused of videotaping himself having sex with an underage girl.

RICHARD DEVINE: Taking advantage of minors will not be tolerated.

UNIDENTIFIED: Jurors found him not guilty on all charges.

ALLAN MAYER: Robert has said all along … he would be cleared of these terrible charges.

PROTESTERS: Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you! Mute R. Kelly! Mute R. Kelly! Mute R. Kelly! Mute R. Kelly!

AMY GOODMAN: This film, Surviving R. Kelly, produced by dream hampton. You watched this?

MARIAME KABA: I did watch. I did watch. I watched all six episodes, and it was very, very difficult to watch. It’s difficult to watch, whether you’re a survivor of sexual assault or not. But particularly if you are a survivor, I think a lot of people have felt very triggered by this film, this documentary series.

But I think it was an important cultural artifact and a cultural gift, basically, to everybody, to put these harms out in the light of day, make people who don’t know the 20 years of R. Kelly’s predation, didn’t know about it, for them to—like, a new audience, a new younger group of folks, to understand really what he’s about and what he’s done. And so, I think—I think it was such an important series.

And I know dream has suffered a lot of threats as a result of doing this work and that it was really difficult work to do. But as a filmmaker and a media maker, I have a lot of respect for her. And as a longtime organizer, she’s been doing this work around anti-violence work for decades. So, it’s just one more offering that she’s put out there in the world for us.

AMY GOODMAN: In 2018, Time’s Up joined the call to #MuteRKelly. In response, a representative for R. Kelly said in a statement, “R. Kelly’s music is a part of American and African-American culture that should never—and will never—be silenced. Since America was born, black men and women have been lynched for having sex or for being accused of it. We will vigorously resist this attempted public lynching of a black man who has made extraordinary contributions to our culture.” Mariame Kaba, could you respond to this?

MARIAME KABA: I mean, what is there to respond to? It is just gross. Right? It is disgusting that he would use the very real legacy of lynching black people, based on lies, that he would use that to defend himself, when it is clear that he has done all these things, right? It is—no one is falsely accusing him. He has multiple accusers, over many, many years, over a period of time. I find it offensive.

AMY GOODMAN: And we’re talking about black women and girls.

MARIAME KABA: Yeah, I mean, but that’s the point. I think he counts—he’s counting on the fact that no one will care because it’s black women and black girls. He’s counting on the fact that black men will not basically defend us. He is actually counting on that. So I think it’s actually incumbent on black men right now to be holding each other to account and for them to step up in defense of black women, for them to step up in defense of black gender-nonconforming people, for people who are on the margins. Right? We deserve protection. We deserve protection.

AMY GOODMAN: Mariame Kaba, I want to ask you about the FIRST STEP Act, the criminal justice act just signed by President Trump, the law rolling back sentences for federal prisoners, including mandatory life terms for third-time offenders and mandatory sentences for nonviolent drug users. In December, I spoke to the co-founders of #cut50, Van Jones and Jessica Jackson Sloan. #cut50 is a national, bipartisan initiative to reduce the U.S.’s incarcerated population by 50 percent over the next 10 years. I asked them about the criticism of the bill.

AMY GOODMAN: So let’s talk about some of the progressive groups, like the Movement for Black Lives. The coalition of more than 150 black-led organizations has come out against the FIRST STEP Act. They wrote a statement, quote, “This bill is custom-made for rich white men. All of the carve outs make the vast majority of our people ineligible for the benefits of the bill. Moreover, by mandating post release surveillance the bill opens the door to increased privatization while causing additional harm to the most marginalized of our people. We believe all of this will be done while giving liberal cover to the Trump Administration as they attack, cage, and warehouse Black, brown, and working class people across the country.” The Movement for Black Lives also points out the bill explicitly excludes immigrants from access to early release and rehab programs and will direct money, say, from early releases to go back into law enforcement. They say the bill encourages profiteering and makes false promises about bringing black prisoners home. Your thoughts, Van?

VAN JONES: Well, I’ll say they should have told the Congressional Black Caucus that, because the vast majority of black lawmakers voted for it. And some of those things are not accurate. Let me say this—Jessica is smarter on the policy. Let me just say this: It’s called the FIRST STEP Act. It’s not the LAST STEP Act; it’s the FIRST STEP Act. This bill does not do any harm to anyone. The goodness in the bill doesn’t get to as many people. There’s good programs in there that don’t—everybody can’t participate in. The goodness in the bill doesn’t get to as many people as we want to, but there is not one additional piece of harm. Not one sentence gets any longer. Nobody serves an extra day. And that, by itself, is something of a victory. And I’ll say more after Jessica.

JESSICA JACKSON SLOAN: So, I just wanted to jump in and correct some of that misinformation, because I just don’t want to have viewers listening and thinking that that is true. And it’s just not.

I’ve seen the numbers. The U.S. Sentencing Commission actually did an analysis, and the exclusions actually are pretty much across the board for white, black and Hispanic individuals. Those exclusions are for a small part of the bill: the time credits that people can earn by doing programming. There are plenty of pieces of the bill that do apply to everybody who’s inside of the prison, regardless of what crime they committed, including the increased good time credit that people can earn off of their sentence for good behavior.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Jessica Jackson Sloan and Van Jones of #cut50. The FIRST [STEP] Act is law now. Your thoughts, Mariame Kaba?

MARIAME KABA: So, I don’t know what to say about this. I’m on the Movement for Black Lives Policy Table, so—I don’t think you knew that, did you?—as, you know, I endorsed the statement that we put out about this bill, this FIRST STEP Act.

We are being—we are consistently told—I do want to point—let me backtrack for one second. Just recently, President Trump was accused of being a racist by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And one of the things that the White House put out as why he actually wasn’t racist was that he signed criminal justice reform. Yeah.

I want to say that we knew that this would be used as a lever to weaponize against people of color, actually, in the long term, by an administration that actually does not want us to thrive. It maybe doesn’t even want us to survive in this country. That’s a fact. People of color are under attack on every level in this country. I don’t understand the concept of this being, quote-unquote, “a first step.” Well, a first step to what? Because there are a bunch of people who are excluded. And that does is it bifurcates the system. It says certain people are deserving and certain people are undeserving of release. So, any, quote-unquote, “reform” or package that actually makes it harder for other people to get out is a package we should not be endorsing.

So, we believe in, as—I mean, most of the people who are around the Policy Table for the Movement for Black Lives, we believe that everybody deserves the right to get out of prison. And we don’t want to make it difficult for certain people while making it easier for others. Also, this, quote, ”FIRST STEP Act” is so minuscule in whatever positive it might bring to a few people, that we have to ask, “What is the trade-off to that?” Right? What is the trade-off to that?

And I don’t—I don’t believe for one second that this administration is going to do something else. I think, from now on, we’re going to hear from Republicans that they did, quote-unquote, “criminal justice reform,” when that is so not true. Right? That is so not true. So it’s making it harder for other people’s organizing to take place within this particular landscape.

So, and I don’t want to—and again, I feel terrible having this conversation in this kind of way, because I have had my conversations behind closed doors. I prefer to have it that way with people who you are in community with, you know? But I—you asked me. I’m responding from the perspective of, you know, being honest about where we come from. And I don’t think there was misinformation in the statement from the Movement for Black Lives. I just think we don’t agree.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to ask you, speaking of prisons, about what’s happening here in New York City. Mayor Bill de Blasio came out for the closing of Rikers Island, but at the same time has a plan to build four new jails, four new prisons—in the Bronx, in Queens, in Manhattan and in Brooklyn—which would hold around 1,500 people each.

MARIAME KABA: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Your group, Critical Resistance, is opposed.

MARIAME KABA: That’s right. Critical Resistance New York, right.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about what’s happening.

MARIAME KABA: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: He did come out against Rikers, which no previous mayor had.

MARIAME KABA: Yeah, yeah, he did come out against Rikers, after massive pressure—again, organizing—from local people, who did not say, “Close Rikers and open up a bunch of decentralized jails.” That was not the demand, OK? It was “Close Rikers and decarcerate.”

So, I don’t understand—we know what is going to happen here. First of all, there will never—some of these jails proposed in these particular boroughs are never going to get built. Why? Because people are not going to stand for it. People are not going to stand for a prison on Staten Island, where all the cops live. Right?

AMY GOODMAN: He didn’t say Staten Island, which is interesting.

MARIAME KABA: Well, you know, he took that out of the thing. But people aren’t going to—they’re going to say, “Not in my backyard.” Right? So that means that, likely, these prisons might be built in particular places that are already disenfranchised and divested from. So we’ll end up with the same, like, single-site place in a particular community that doesn’t have enough power to fight it. That’s number one.

Number two, I do not understand how we are going to get to decarceration in this city or in this state without actual real bail reform. That is partly, like, why people aren’t getting at the root causes of why people end up behind bars, why we’re not looking at why we don’t have a robust substance use and abuse system, why we don’t have robust housing, affordable housing, for people in New York, why we’re not paying attention to giving people living wage jobs. All of those would decrease the number of people who cycle through our jails. Right? That is not the conversation that’s being had. It’s just about bricks and mortar. It’s just about like buildings. And I think the Close Rikers Campaign here in New York City is really pushing for a reframing of what community safety looks like, and an insistence that we are not going to build a whole bunch of new jails around the country. That completely defeats the purpose.

Also, I feel like, you know, to be honest, de Blasio is going to be out of office way before any of this stuff comes into being. We don’t know what the next administration is planning and what they are trying to do. So, it’s important and incumbent on New York City folks to organize to say what we want is decarceration. We want an end to pretrial detention, and we want an end to money bail.

AMY GOODMAN: And what would an end to money bail look like? How many people would be freed?

MARIAME KABA: So many people, because if you look at the numbers, in this country there are about 700,000 people in our jails around the country on any given day. Eleven million people cycle through U.S. jails in a year. Eleven million. OK? That’s a huge number. Out of the 700,000 people who are currently locked up, 450,000 people are locked up because they can’t afford to pay bail. That is—

AMY GOODMAN: But the prison population of the country is around 2 million.

MARIAME KABA: Two-point-three million, the prison and jails together. If you’re looking at just our jails, that’s 700,000. Out of that number, 450,000 are there because they can’t afford to pay their bail. That is a debtors’ prison. That means—that’s criminalizing poverty, and that’s wrong. Bail was supposed to exist to ensure that you showed up at your next court date. Why is it then that if you don’t have money, you can’t get out?

So, we have people like Harvey Weinstein, accused of multiple sexual assaults; Kevin Spacey—a whole bunch of people right now with—rich white men with money. And they’re not sitting in a jail rotting. Right? They could afford to pay their $10 million bail and traipse out into the world.

We have people locked up in jails right now who die behind bars, because they can’t pay $50 to get out. That is immoral. It’s egregious. It is part of why we’ve done things like the Movement for Black Lives and others have come together to do national bailouts. Right? Mama’s Day bailouts, Father’s Day bailouts, other, to kind of dramatize this problem so people understand what’s really going on. But it’s just immoral. It’s immoral, and it’s wrong. And you should not be in jail because you can’t afford to get your way out of it.

And so, you know, that’s a huge thing that needs to happen. And we’re being told that there will be bail reform in Albany this year. The promises made by Cuomo are like literally paper thin. You can’t—you know, you can’t count on him. But if he has any sort of mindset at all for national office, I suggest he get on the move on criminal punishment issues in the state. He’s abysmal. His record is abysmal.

AMY GOODMAN: Mariame Kaba is an organizer and educator who’s worked on anti-domestic violence programs, as well as anti-incarceration and racial justice programs. Kaba is the co-founder of Survived and Punished.

If you’d like to see Part 1 of this discussion, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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