Bailing Out Black Mamas in Charlottesville & Albemarle #FreeBlackMamas
submission from local organizers with SONG’s Black Mamas Bailout
This Mothers Day season, Charlottesville organizers have, for the second year in a row, raised funds to free black mothers and caregivers from cells in local jails. The Black Mama Bail Out Action was called one year ago by Southerners on New Ground (SONG), an unapologetically pro-Black, multi-racial queer liberation group that organizes against interlocking oppressions across the South. SONG members living in Charlottesville raised money, conducted research, and engaged in participatory defense to support black mamas locked up and denied bond at Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail. What we discovered in that first year was that Charlottesville, in peak white neoliberalism, prides itself on having abolished the practice of cash bail.
It’s true. Charlottesville does not use a cash bail system. But, unsurprisingly, there is a catch. The Charlottesville court system repeatedly denies bond altogether, even in cases where most courts around the country would deem bond denial highly unnecessary. So instead of sitting in jail pre-trial because you can’t afford bail, you can now sit in jail pre-trial because you were arbitrarily denied bond. The thing is, when you have bail set, at least you can fundraise to make bail. But when you’re denied bond, there is no amount of fundraising that will get you free. And just like every other link in the criminal justice system, the denial of bond is not color blind; it disproportionately affects people of color. The most common justifications for denial of bond are: one, the person charged is considered a flight risk or two, the person charged is considered a threat to their own safety or the safety of others. That seems almost reasonable if you believe in jails. But in the state of Virginia there are twelve other circumstances a judge or magistrate can take into consideration when making a bond ruling. And the books are stacked against people who are more heavily policed and unfairly convicted. So again, people of color.
Out of the frustration of being unable to easily bail out black mothers last year, the organizers with the Black Mamas Bail Out had to get creative. Instead of simply paying to get black women out of jail, we engaged in a practice of participatory defense. Participatory defense is a community-wide commitment to showing up by the side of people navigating the court system. This can mean bringing a large presence to bond hearings, writing letters to the judge, making visits to folx incarcerated and awaiting trial, etc. These acts of community support, of public witnessing in courtrooms that are normally spaces of isolation, go a long way to shifting outcomes for community members of color trapped in a system meant to cage them. Last year, this meant freedom for a black mother facing pretrial detention and facing the possibility of giving birth in jail.
It also led to a robust continued practice of court watching in Charlottesville and Albemarle courts over the last twelve months. This is a step anyone can take. Similar to cop watch, court watch can make a huge difference. It turns out when we are watching, judges and cops feel less free to be racist trash. By sitting in court and taking notes on the cases being heard, we can identify individuals who might benefit from participatory defense. We can identify individuals who are going to go through a bond hearing process. And in Albemarle courts, because Albemarle still loves it some cash money bail, we can identify individuals who do need to be bailed out.
Every day, black mothers are sitting in cages. Every day they are detained pretrial is another day they cannot be with their families, is another day they cannot do the work of supporting and loving their families and communities. Every day lost to pretrial detention weakens black families and communities. It can mean the loss of children, of jobs, of homes. So we take guidance from historical practices of Black liberation, from the enslaved Africans who pooled resources and purchased each other’s freedom. We will celebrate the future of prison abolition, but until then, we will pool our resources and purchase the freedom of trans and cis black mamas and caregivers. You can still help us raise money to do just that.
Go to http://bit.ly/freeblackmamasfund-18 and make sure to choose Charlottesville in the drop down menu to mark the funds for local efforts.
In the words of Assata Shakur, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” We look forward to loving and supporting you as we build a robust community of resistance in Charlottesville. #FreeBlackMamas #DefendCville