Reuniting Fourteen Durham Families, Black Mama's Day Bail Out Aims to Reform the State's Racially Biased Ransom Demands | Durham County | Indy Week

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Reuniting Fourteen Durham Families, Black Mama's Day Bail Out Aims to Reform the State's Racially Biased Ransom Demands

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On Sunday, smoke from a grill wafted sweetly through an open-sided shelter at Hillside Park, where a few dozen people were talking, laughing, and eating. A rented bouncy castle wobbled nearby. Joyous music rattled in tinny speakers.

It was like any number of Mother's Day celebrations taking place across Durham, except for one thing. The mothers it celebrated had all been released from the Durham County Detention Facility within the last few days, though they had not been convicted of any crimes.

The Mama's Day Homecoming Celebration was emceed by Serena Sebring and Jade Brooks, activists with Southerners on New Ground, a twenty-five-year-old queer liberation organization with an intersectional social justice mission. Outside the jail on the prior Wednesday, Sebring sat at a folding table festooned with balloons and laden with care packages, alongside her daughter, Courtney (an activist with Black Youth Project 100), Brooks, and SONG member Kifu Faruq, among others.

Courtney Sebring, left, takes a picture of Shaquana Williams, center, and her sister Tia Allen. - PHOTO BY ALEX BOERNER
  • Photo by Alex Boerner
  • Courtney Sebring, left, takes a picture of Shaquana Williams, center, and her sister Tia Allen.

All of them worked phones and clipboards with calm determination. They were arranging transportation and support for issues of housing, employment, addiction, and more, working with many community partners, including the Inside-Outside Alliance and Triangle SURJ. They were also navigating the hurdles that seem deliberately built into the system of money bail. For example, a judge unsecured one woman's bond—meaning it no longer needed to be paid unless she missed her court date—while SONG was paying it, resulting in a needless $10,000 expenditure.

"The system is designed to keep you in and take your money," Brooks says. But it all seemed worthwhile when a mother emerged arm in arm with her daughter, beaming, and then took Faruq in a long, emotional embrace.

Black Mama's Day Bail Out was a national action that spanned more than a dozen cities across the country. According to the Movement for Black Lives, the initiative, which was conceived by SONG, raised more than $700,000 nationally to free black mothers who were in jail on bonds they couldn't afford to pay. The goal was not only to transform individual lives now but also to eventually transform what critics call an arbitrary, predatory, racially biased system in which the privileged can buy their pretrial freedom while the poor remain ransomed by the state for weeks and months, even for small municipal offenses.

"We have a country whose values say people are innocent until proven guilty, and that turns out to be the case—unless you're poor," Sebring says.

By the end of Wednesday, SONG had paid just over $35,000 to secure the release of eight women whose bonds ranged from $150 to $10,000. Over three more hectic days, which included a trip to Charlotte to support the action there, they bought the freedom of six more, spending roughly $100,000 total, raised locally and from the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund.

Studies by the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Assistance suggest that race and ethnicity affect the decision to grant bail, that African Americans are 66 percent more likely to be detained pretrial than whites, and that people who are incarcerated before their trials are more likely to be convicted than those released on bond.

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