Held for Ransom: The Right to Protest and Reality of Cash Bail
On Sunday, Akron, Ohio, rose against the horrors of white supremacist policing on a scale not seen since the summer of 2020. The police released footage of their June 27th traffic stop of 25-year-old Jayland Walker. After being pulled over for an “unspecified traffic violation,” Walker fled, unarmed, by foot. Police fired 90 rounds, hitting him 60 times. Local government and police, who recently appeared at a Juneteenth event to “give hope” about improved community-police relations, responded to public outcry with more disproportionate violence. When residents called for protest, the government unilaterally suspended First Amendment rights by enforcing a curfew. When some knocked over a barrier outside police headquarters, the cops fired a dozen rounds of chemical munitions at unarmed civilians. The police then indiscriminately rounded up dozens of people to hold them for ransom, an everyday occurrence under the U.S. cash bail system (Fox 8). Take time to support the Akron bail fund and understand why cash bail is necessary to push back against an abusive system that has taken yet another life.
Bail funds are community-based organizations that raise money to post bail for people in jail. Many people learned about them while supporting the George Floyd Rebellion: mass acts of solidarity with protestors facing the criminal injustice system (The Atlantic), just like supporting the Akron bail fund is today.
Affirming that black lives matter on Instagram is one thing, but challenging millions of your followers to support Black people engaging in civil disobedience is a far bolder stance.”
In the U.S., you can be kidnapped and incarcerated without being convicted of any crime. You haven’t confessed. (Read about the injustice of plea deals.) Your trial date may be scheduled for a few weeks from now — or it may not arrive for years.
If you pay a hefty bribe (bail), your jailers let you walk out the door, free until called for your trial. But most people in the U.S. don’t have $1,000 they could spend in an emergency (CNBC). If you can’t post bail and don’t get a predatory loan from a loan shark (The Appeal), you wait, suffering a severe physical and emotional toll while losing your job, housing, and social network.
The scenario described above is the current reality for 460,000 Americans (G.Q.). It’s the numerical equivalent of a supervillain holding every resident of both Reno and Madison, Wisconsin, for ransom – except the supervillain is the American government.
“95% of the people in this jail are waiting on a trial,” said a Chicago sheriff. “On any given day, we have probably two to three hundred people that, if they came up with $500, they would leave” (CBS News). The U.S. government considers those accused of a crime innocent until proven guilty. That means, by its standards, the government builds massive jails for the express purpose of incarcerating the innocent—at least if they’re poor. Those held for ransom are also disproportionately Black, since Black people and other people of color are more often targeted for arrests and less likely to have the financial capacity to post bail.
“What can we do?”
Holding people in squalid conditions for months or years to coerce them to buy their freedom makes a mockery of words like “democracy,” “equality,” and the “rule of law.” Donating to the Akron bail fund or another initiative is the difference between a detainee getting out of jail tomorrow or in ten months. It means arrestees can retain some control over their lives as they await trial. And it means that those fighting an absurd, racist system don’t get to be held hostage by the same system.
We need to donate today to get our people out tomorrow. But for the long term, we need to do more than understand cash bail and fundraise to pay ransom to our jailers: we need to eliminate cash bail and fight against to power of the white supremacist carceral system at every turn.
• After police shot Jayland Walker in the back 60 times, they brutalized protesters and arrested dozens, holding them in pretrial detention.
• The government holds innocent people until they pay for their freedom by posting bail.
• Donating to bail funds brings people home to their communities and families today.