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Philly black moms bailed out call for change

The Philadelphia Community Bail Fund, which bailed out 15 black mothers and caregivers for Mother's Day, said the cash bail system unfairly hurts black women.
After freeing 15 black mothers and caregivers for Mother's Day, activists with the People's Paper Co-op and Philadelphia Community Bail Fund marched down Broad Street to call for an end to cash bail. (Sam Newhouse)

A few more black mothers will be home for Mother's Day this year, thanks to the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund, which bailed out 15 black mothers and caregivers this week as part of the nationally organized Black Mamas Bail Out Day.

"What they're doing, this is a blessing," said Shirley, 36, a mother of two who was bailed out by the group on May 8. She asked not to be identified by her last name because her case is pending. "I was in there for four days. It felt like four years."

Shirley asserted the charges against her were built on false testimony by someone with a grudge. But she wouldn't have been able to afford to pay 10 percent of the cash bail a judge set.

"I was lied on, and instead of being able to say my side and speak, I was only allowed to say my name, and got told my bail was $50,000," she said. "You're guilty until proven innocent."

Shirley and several other black moms rallied in the City Hall courtyard and marched down Broad Street on Thursday afternoon to rally for the release of black mothers and caregivers and the end of cash bail. The practice of cash bail has come increasingly under criticism in Philadelphia, including from Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner, who has sided with reform advocates who say cash bail has little or no benefit to public safety, and ordered his office to stop seeking cash bail for low-level charges. They want Philly to adopt a system like that of Washington, D.C., or New Jersey, where judges order defendants detained or not based on their likeliness to show up for court dates and whether they are a threat to the public. 

“There is absolutely no reason why someone who will show up for court, is not a flight risk and is no threat to their neighbors and community needs to sit in jail for days because they can’t post a small amount of bail,” Krasner said in February. “It’s simply not fair.”

The Philadelphia Community Bail Fund (PCBF) was started one year ago by organizers who sought to bail out black mothers for Mother's Day, and after raising $60,000 in one week, decided to continue bailing out black women. (The group said it supports women of all races, but bails out black women because they represent 70 percent of female inmates.)

"This Sunday, there's a son or a daughter somewhere going to sleep crying, because their mother's not there," said LaTonya Meyers, an activist with the People's Paper Co-op, which supports PCBF. "They have to go to school and answer questions like, 'What did y'all do for Mother's Day?' and say, 'Y'know my mom's not there.' Why? Not because she was convicted of a crime. Because she couldn't afford bail."

In the past year, PCBF said they've bailed out 60 women who had been locked up for anywhere from 4 to 450 days on cash bails ranging from $1,500 to $50,000.

Iyo Bishop said that she was detained for 78 days with a bail of $5,000 for assault charges before being bailed out by PCBF. The charges were later dismissed, but while incarcerated she lost her car, job and apartment.

Another mother at the rally was LaTyra Blake, 41, of North Philly. While not bailed out by PCBF, she said her experience being incarcerated for two years made her want to help other women.

"I went inside when my son was 7 months old. I lost my house and everything in it, including my brother's ashes. I was devastated. I didn't know what I was going to do," she said. "We need to fight for our community, for our freedom. … They saw me at my worst. Now they can see me at my best."

To learn more, visit Phillybailout.org.