GA Voice - - Georgianews -

It’s no se­cret there are racial dis­par­i­ties in the criminal jus­tice sys­tem. The Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for the Ad­vance­ment of Colored Peo­ple re­ported that one out of ev­ery 100 African-Amer­i­can women is in prison.

At­lanta-based South­ern­ers On New Ground wants to change that.

“I was like, what would it look like for us to em­body our vi­sion, for us to re­ally think about what en­slaved Africans have done as a pas­sage to get free?” said Mary Hooks, co-direc­tor of SONG.

And the idea for Black Ma­mas Bail Out was born: by gath­er­ing col­lec­tive re­sources, they could buy each other’s free­dom. Specif­i­cally, for now, the free­dom of black At­lanta moth­ers in jail be­cause they can’t af­ford the cash bail re­quired to get out.

“As a black les­bian mother, I feel this is­sue very deep in my heart,” Hooks said. “I know what it’s like to be ar­rested and have the state change your life. … I’ve been bailed out be­fore. I’ve bailed out my homies.”

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port is­sued by the Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions on May 1, there were about 3,800 women in Peach State pris­ons, about 1,500 of whom were black (men make up 93 per­cent of the to­tal Ge­or­gia prison pop­u­la­tion, and 62 per­cent of those men in­car­cer­ated are black). Though the statis­tics were not ac­counted for by race, more than 2,100 of the women im­pris­oned in Ge­or­gia have at least one de­pen­dent.

The cam­paign to break the cage

One of the ma­jor rea­sons why Hooks is so pas­sion­ate about this project is be­cause of the col­lat­eral dam­age caused by putting peo­ple in jail: par­ents can lose their chil­dren, fam­i­lies can lose their homes and peo­ple lose their minds “in the cage.”

Sev­eral weeks ago, SONG put in an open records re­quest to see what it would be work­ing with.

“We saw there were women who were sit­ting [in At­lanta jails] who had charges like drink­ing out­side of a pack­age store, us­ing fight­ing words, ur­ban camp­ing — which is home­less­ness,” Hooks said. “Due process has not taken place and they’re sit­ting in a cage. … About 37 of these women had a dif­fer­ent scale of bail amounts and when we to­taled it up, I was sur­prised at how lit­tle it is.”

Those 37 women have a to­tal bail of about $40,000.

“Just to see it and cal­cu­late what’s ac­tu­ally pos­si­ble kind of blew our minds a lit­tle bit,” Hooks said. “I’m no judge. I don’t know what these folks have done, but I do know that per our Con­sti­tu­tion, you should be able to get out of jail and com­mit to com­ing back to court.”

Black Ma­mas Bail Out is an ex­per­i­ment — and the com­mu­nity re­sponse has been enor­mous.

“Once we spoke it into ex­is­tence, we’re like, we’re go­ing to do it. Other com­rade or­ga­ni­za­tions on a na­tional level were like, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ We be­gan schem­ing and dream­ing and we be­gan ask­ing out on so­cial me­dia,” Hooks said.

On Na­tional Give OUT Day, which is the largest fundrais­ing day for LGBT or­ga­ni­za­tions, SONG set a goal of $15,000. It more than dou­bled that. SONG brought in over $33,000 on Give OUT Day, which also won it the na­tional prize of an ad­di­tional $10,000.

“Our goal is to get as many out as we can. If it’s one, if it’s 10, if it’s 100, we say bless­ings,” Hooks said. “If they’re out, it eases the suf­fer­ing for the rest of us.”

Cash­ing out cash bail

Another fo­cus of the bail out is rais­ing

Black Ma­mas Bail Out Home­com­ing & Cel­e­bra­tion

Sun­day, May 14 from 1 to 6 p.m. How­ell Park, 983 Ralph David Aber­nathy Blvd. SW, At­lanta www.face­ events/325869517830838 aware­ness of the cash bail sys­tem.

“Our cur­rent City Coun­cil, they can ac­tu­ally pass an or­di­nance that could end the use of cash bail, al­low­ing peo­ple to sign out on their own re­cog­ni­zance or with the sup­port of com­mu­nity-based pro­grams,” Hooks said. “We need folks to take a stand around this and be­gin call­ing our cur­rent City Coun­cil folks and our Ful­ton County com­mis­sion­ers. Why are our peo­ple sit­ting in cages be­cause they can­not af­ford bail?”

SONG will kick off its Black Ma­mas Bail Out on Mother’s Day with a com­mu­nity event to raise aware­ness and con­tinue fundrais­ing — Hooks said there’s about a seven-day changeover with peo­ple in city jails.

“Bring love of­fer­ings for the moth­ers that are our hon­ored guests on that day,” she said. “It’s all hands on deck. … We’ve linked up with a lot of ser­vice agen­cies to come talk to peo­ple about so­cial se­cu­rity, the steps to take to get­ting their kids back. The aban­don­ment that our chil­dren feel when their moth­ers are gone is heinous.”

The event will in­clude speak­ers all af­ter­noon, a job fair, ac­tiv­i­ties for kids and fam­i­lies and op­por­tu­ni­ties to get in­volved in the move­ment, plus in­for­ma­tion about the cash bail sys­tem and ap­peal­ing to City Coun­cil.

New Or­leans, Louisiana ended its cash bail sys­tem, and Hous­ton, Texas ap­pears headed in the same di­rec­tion, Hooks said. And though the project is aimed at black women, Hooks said all mi­nor­ity and im­pov­er­ished com­mu­ni­ties can ben­e­fit from what it’s do­ing.

“Forty-six per­cent of us LGBTQ folks en­gage and have po­lice en­coun­ters, have been pro­filed,” she said. “For those who sur­vive and aren’t killed by po­lice guns, the slow death hap­pens in­side jails and pris­ons.”

May 12, 2017

On Mother’s Day, At­lanta-based South­ern­ers on New Ground will kick off an ini­tia­tive to free black moth­ers who can’t af­ford bail from city jails. (File photo)

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