Activist Mary Hooks of co-director of Southerners On New Ground (Photo courtesy of Hunter Boone)

Mary Hooks, co-director of Southerners On New Ground (Photo courtesy of Hunter Boone)

The activist group Southerners on New Ground (SONG) is spearheading a national campaign called National Black Mama’s Bail Out Day. The campaign plans to free dozens of jailed Black mothers across the United States in time to be home for Mother’s Day. According to the SONG website:

“The National Black Mama’s Bail Out Day Action is part of the growing movement to end mass criminalization and modern bondage. It is rooted in the history of Black liberation, inspired by the enslaved Africans and Black people who used their collective resources to purchase each other’s freedom. Through this action, we will support birth mothers, trans mothers, and other women who [are] mothers and are entangled in the criminal legal system. We’re fundraising in our local communities and across the South to help bring as many Black mamas and caregivers as we can for Mother’s Day to give them an opportunity to spend Mother’s Day with their families, highlight the human costs of inhumane and destructive bail practices, and support local base-building on the frontlines of mass incarceration.”

Rolling out spoke with Mary Hooks, co-director of Southerners On New Ground about the campaign.

What makes this campaign unique and needed?

This campaign is a vision and dream made manifest. It brings the best of our ancestral traditions that enslaved Africans once by using their collective resources to purchase each other’s freedom. As there are long-term campaigns that have been fighting to end money bail, this campaign allows us to get our people out of cages, now, while we take on longer term policy fights. Daily, 700,000 people sit in a cage because they cannot afford to pay their bail, they have not been tried nor convicted. This campaign is critical because 80 percent of women who are in cages are single parents and caretakers in our communities. One out of nine Black children has a parent that is incarcerated. One out of three Black trans-women has experienced sexual violence while being locked in the cage. When Black mamas are taken from our community and put in cages, we all suffer.

How will mothers be selected for participation?

The selection is based on whether or not folks are in pre-trial and eligible for bail, meaning they are in a cage waiting for their court date and have a bail set that they cannot pay. This campaign has shown us how intricate the web of the criminal injustice system is woven, making it difficult to contact our people who are caught up in it. Our team filed open records request a few weeks ago to get a list of the Black women who are being detained in the city jail. When we ran the report, we found that there were 37 Black women that were there on pre-trial. Many of the women were being held on charges such as urban camping (homelessness), the use of fighting words, and traffic violations. Mind you, this list did not include Black trans women because they are housed on the men’s side of the jail. With the help of lawyers from the Southern Center for Human Rights and the Davis Bozeman Law Firm, we are creating mechanisms to talk to the women and get their consent and assess the needs they will have upon release.

How many mothers do you hope to bail out?

It depends on how much we are able to raise. If we were able to bail out the 37 women that we identified from the open records request, it would have cost $40K to pay the sum of their bail. However, most of those women have already been sentenced and released and since 98 percent of people take plea deals order to go home. The average stay in the city jail is seven days. The country jail houses 235 women at the Union City facility. Ideally, we want to bail out as many Black mamas as possible, so even the corrections officers would have to go home, but if we can only get one or five or 100, we will do what we set out to do. We are working closely with direct service providers to do the best we can to connect folks with the services they may need to recover from the collateral damage of having to sit in a cage and provide community support to get folks back to court. Since bail is returned, we would like to learn from this action and make this happen again!

How can people become involved?

We need everyone to contribute something because we can all put a little something on it, in order to get Black mamas free. If the 54 percent of Black folks who live in the city gave a dollar, we could raise $250K. It doesn’t matter how much you can give it just matters that you care enough to give. Folks can go online (please put ATL in the memo line) to give a donation. We are also collecting other donations (food, paper goods, gifts for mamas, MARTA cards, etc..) that can be dropped off at the SONG house (580 Holderness St. SW Atlanta, GA 30310 on Saturday from noon to 5 p.m.). We also welcome folks to bring their offering of love and support to the Black Mamas Day Homecoming Celebration happening at Howell Park on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 14 from 1 to 6 p.m. located at 983 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd., Atlanta, GA 30310. We will be providing childcare. Folks can also bring donations there as early as 10 a.m. We need volunteers for May 11, May 12, May 13 and 14. If folks are interested in volunteering they can email [email protected] to get more information.

What would you like to say to our readers in closing?

This action is one way of getting our folks out of the cage, however, we can take collective action to end the practice of ending cash bail. For example, in New Orleans and Houston, community organizing efforts ended cash bail. People are able to get a signature bond and those that may need support getting back to court are directed to community-based programs and not put on ankle monitors and house arrest. The elected officials in the city of Atlanta brag on the fact that they have $175M in their money bags, while those with the lowest incomes make an average of $14,450 a year, while people are being caged for “urban camping,” and our children can’t get a quality education. These are the same people who are over policed, targeted, surveilled, and caged and the city profits off our suffering. The residents in Atlanta must show our elected officials what good governance looks like by demanding progressive legislation to end cash bail, decriminalizing cannabis, and other policies that divest from policing, courts, and jails that keep Black mamas in cages and invest in community-based programs that strengthen our communities.

Mo Barnes

"Mo Betta" Maurice "Mo" Barnes is a graduate of Morehouse College and Political Scientist based in Atlanta. Mo is also a Blues musician.