National movement bails out Black mamas

Durham, N.C., county jail, May 9.

Mother’s Day is a designated annual day to honor all mothers and celebrate their love, sacrifices and dedication to their families. But many Black mothers will be absent from their families on that day. They are among millions who are behind bars because they are financially unable to post bail for even minor infractions.

In May 2017, the National Bail Out Collective launched a campaign to post bail for mothers who would otherwise be separated from their children on Mother’s Day. They raised enough funds to free about 100 women who were awaiting trial. Their efforts gave families an effective way out of a system that disproportionately impacts African Americans and incarcerates people living in poverty. This has become a year-round effort, joining the movement to end mass incarceration.

On May 6, the collective, a formation of Black organizers and allies who are committed to building a community-based movement to end pretrial detention, launched the second year of the National Black Mama’s Bail Out campaign, with 13 participating organizations. They include SONG (Southerners On New Ground), the Black Youth Project, Dream Defenders, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Color of Change and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

The Black Mama’s Bail Out Day campaign aims to raise money to bail out as many Black mothers in the country as possible and reunite them with their families for Mother’s Day. A further goal is to bring attention to the injustice of the for-profit cash bail industry, which jails people awaiting trial before they are even convicted of a crime.

Welcoming community members home with love, support and offerings, the collective has been able to provide short-term housing, health care, transportation, drug treatment and mental health services. It states: “We are working hard to help our people get back on their feet. Because our cities and states invest in jails and cages instead of services or support, many of our people do not have the basic resources they need to take care of themselves or their families.”

Ending racist pretrial detention

An average of 700,000 people daily are condemned to local jails and separated from their families simply because they cannot afford bail. It can ruin a person’s life; they may lose their job, housing, autos and even their children.

Pretrial incarceration has catastrophic impacts on Black families and communities in particular. Black people are twice as likely to be arrested and caged before trial, and according to Color of Change’s Philadelphia campaign director Clarice McCants, 80 percent of Black women in jail are mothers. (WABC’s “Here & Now,” May 13) The racist “war on drugs” has resulted in millions of people being taken from their families.

A statement issued by the National Bail Out Collective asserts: “We are committed to building a community-based movement to end pretrial detention and ultimately mass incarceration. The Mama’s Day action is rooted in the tradition of our enslaved ancestors, who went to every length, including harnessing their collective resources, to purchase each other’s freedom and keep their families together.” (, May 7)

SONG Co-Director Mary Hooks spoke of their efforts to unite and help families achieve stability and referred to the arrest and courtroom system as another form of lynching: “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.” (, May 11)

Hooks stated that they’re looking for solutions to dismantle the system of money bail, and that a lot of their work is making sure that they build and provide the alternatives that mothers need. They don’t need cages, she stressed; they need care and community-based solutions. She adds that they’re not going to wait on the state or big business to find an interest in this hot topic. They’re going to take matters into their own hands, because they know that their communities are suffering.

SONG, a grassroots, queer-liberation organization that seeks to bail out mothers and caregivers of all genders, expects that more than 100 mothers will be bailed out for this year’s Mother’s Day. But they know that hundreds in the communities are going to be impacted if even just one mother and caregiver is bailed out of the cage.

The week before Mother’s Day, organizations in cities across the country began bailing out as many mothers as possible who would otherwise spend Mother’s Day in a cell. Some cities include Durham and Charlotte, N.C.; New York; Baltimore; Little Rock, Ark.; Philadelphia; Atlanta; St. Louis; Montgomery, Ala.; Charlottesville, Va.; Houston; Memphis; St. Petersburg, Fla.; Los Angeles and Oakland, Calif.

The National Black Mama’s Bail Out campaign also highlights local organizing efforts while activists call on legislators, judges and district attorneys to abolish the cash bail system.

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